I was experimenting with silhouettes early one morning in Kauai, HI. The camera was triggered with a wireless shutter release (was thankful I didn’t have to scramble back and forth through the sand and rocks using the self-timer). I’m sure that someone thinks that there’s only one right way to shoot silhouettes but my preference is to error on the side of slightly overexposing relative to a completely black silhouette. This varies based on the background but I want to make sure to get enough detail in the non-silhouetted portions of the photo. Of course I could composite multiple exposures but I find it simpler to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to reduce the exposure in the appropriate areas to get a complete silhouette if that’s what I’m after. Often there’s no need for this extra work though — I usually can get I what I want in-camera (I did with this one). Shooting brackets isn’t a bad idea either if you’re unsure. The textures were added via OnOne Perfect Photo Suite.
Last weekend in Orlando I shot my first wedding as the primary shooter and thought I’d share this picture of one of the bridesmaids (my daughter). I was fortunate enough to catch this candid moment as she walked down the aisle with this groomsman. It’s perfect IMO that she was looking at him when he did his little pointing gesture.
Some of the shooting situations were challenging as the ceremony was held in the afternoon as the sun set — the light constantly changed, the sun streaming through the trees caused a lot of mottled sun and shade (as seen in the photo above), the bridal party was a mix of very dark and light skin (see photo above again), the clothing was a mix of brilliant white and jet black which doesn’t leave a lot of latitude for exposure errors on either end (glad I wasn’t shooting film!), and there wasn’t a great choice for locations to shoot the bridal party.
Most of the pictures turned out quite nice. I’ve dealt with the skin color issue before — my own children are a mix of four ethnicities — so I was (somewhat) prepared to deal with it. With the changing light I couldn’t just get my settings dialed in once and fire away, but I knew to be careful about exposing the dark skin enough while avoided blowing out the exposure of the light skin. I also attempted to avoid blowing out the highlights on the white tuxes but was willing to give that up if necessary. The recovery slider in Lightroom was able to compensate for most of those highlights in the end. I used some amount of fill flash for most of the pictures — on-camera for the ceremony, off-camera for the bridal party pictures, and a mix of each for the reception.
Logistically there were many issues. I’ll spare you the boring details but we ran out of time to get all the bridal party pictures that we had listed (got the most important ones though). I didn’t have an official second shooter (but did have another photographer who agreed to capture the groom as the bride walked in, while I concentrated on the bride).
A sampling of things I learned while shooting this wedding: Shoot more (in some situations). In particular, when shooting groups of people during the ceremony, shoot enough to ensure that there are at least one or two frames where everyone looks good (in a pinch you can replace a head or two in Photoshop but that eats a lot of time). I ended up with some sets of group photos where I’m not certain I have an acceptable image due to someone looking “bad”. If shooting multiple cameras make sure the time stamps are in sync. This isn’t absolutely critical but makes things easier. I forgot to do this and things have been slightly painful when sorting in Lightroom. Positioning…too much to explain here (maybe will go thru them someday) but I learned that some of the positions I thought would be ideal for certain shots weren’t so ideal after all and I was forced to make do.
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.
Ever since taking Raul Touzon’s workshop I almost never shoot using auto white balance (AWB). The camera rarely gets the white balance correct when it guesses, and the photos from a single shoot are often inconsistent in color when they are shot with AWB. If they are going to be “wrong” when AWB is used, you might as well guess wrong yourself by choosing one of the manual white balance modes — at least the images will be consistent with each other.
Ideally one would shoot an image of a gray card (or a similar type of product) which has a known color and use it either to set a custom white balance in the camera or to sample it in software to do an automatic adjustment. If I don’t use a gray card, I pick a WB mode (my default is “daylight”) and shoot everything with that. In Lightroom I either sample a white point to fix up the WB or I adjust it to taste (I might even want to make it wacky here and there).
The shot above was snapped in the kitchen while I was testing my newly-repaired camper. Canon had changed all my default settings of course and I don’t even remember what WB was set in the camera. No matter, I simply used the WB eye dropper to sample one of the white polka dots on my daughter’s dress. The image above is the result — straight out of the camera except for the white balance.
It’s pouring rain again tonight. Lots of lightning and thunder too…awesome. Last night after the rain I noticed some clouds to the east so I shot about 20 handheld frames along the horizon. The above image was cropped from the resulting stitched panorama (probably about 10 frames worth). I did some basic contrast adjustments in Photoshop after the stitch then went back into Lightroom. I’d recently seen a very cool cloud/lightning image done in black and white and decided to go that route with this one. I used the channel mixer in Lightroom to adjust the image to taste. In very rough terms that meant darkening the blues and brightening the reds.
I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post. We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures. It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky. Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light. Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.
The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones. In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”. We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking. If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed. Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight. The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.
My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO. I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash. This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50′+). Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light. Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out. Both methods were effective in their own way. With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever. I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time). A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise. Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it. Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.
In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures). All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out. The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough. There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.
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
I frankly haven’t been very impressed with the iPhone’s HDR feature until yesterday. The image at the top was taken with my iPhone 4S with the HDR option turned on, then edited quickly with Lightroom to add some contrast and clarity mainly. I often try the HDR feature and don’t see a ton of difference. This time the HDR option just happened to be left on from the last time I’d tried it but as you can see, the results are impressive for a phone camera.
Here are the straight-out-of-the-iphone images:
Just plain cute. I grabbed this while my wife and her sister were trying to get our youngest to smile for the iPhone. Sometimes these are the best pictures.
Since this is supposed to be a photography blog I can’t leave out the processing…I hit the “Auto” button and did a couple other minor tweaks in Lightroom. Manual mode, flash bounced off the wall behind the camera.
My wife and I (and several in her family) attended a luau while in Hawaii last week. I have no idea what an old traditional luau was like or how authentic the festivities were but in any case it was immensely enjoyable. Knowing that the main show would be after dark, I fitted my camera with my 50mm f/1.4 lens. Night photography has never been something I’ve been good at (maybe that can be said about all my photography ). I’m always going back and forth with myself on the best combination for getting good exposures — shutter/aperture/ISO. Noise is always a consideration (not so much now that one of my bodies is a 5D Mkii).
For much of this show I wanted to mostly freeze the motion (like in the second shot above) so I shot in manual mode with an aperture between 1.4 and 2.8, shutter speed in the 1/500s – 1/640s range, and ISO 1600-3200 (the stage lighting varied from act to act and I tweaked settings accordingly). Depth of field wasn’t much of an issue because my focus point was quite far. However, I also spent time trying to capture some of the motion in the dances. I was shooting handheld so I did have to consider that when deciding how long to open the shutter. I played around with various shutter speeds and came out with some fun shots. For the fire shots I had hoped to be able to reduce the exposure enough to avoid blowing out the highlights of the flames completely but in doing so I ended up underexposing everything else much more than I liked. In the shot above I like the balance between capturing motion in the flame yet keeping some clarity in the dancer. Some shots blurred things more (see image below) and that’s interesting in its own right but I prefer the balance in the shot at the top of the post.
Processing was quite simple for all these shots. I shot with daylight white balance so that I effectively captured the colors consistently. The color turned out rather well. I used a bit of clarity and sometimes bumped the exposure up a hair in Lightroom. Finally, I exported from Lightroom with a preset that ran the images through a noise reduction action (using Noiseware) in Photoshop.
Last summer I took my 6 year old son camping for the weekend at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS…see this post, and this post). I didn’t do a lot of photography but managed a few shots to document the weekend.
The night shot that I recently posted from Big Bend National Park brought to mind some of the pictures I took at night at PINS. The shot above had some really cool clouds and it looked to me like an angel with its wings spread across the ocean (kind of sappy I know). The surf is always pounding down there but I like how the long exposure gives the Gulf a smooth look.
I can’t explain why, but the view of the stars from the beach is every bit as clear and amazing as the view in the middle of west Texas (which has some of the darkest skies in the US). Depending where you are on the beach you may be as close as 15 miles from Corpus Christi — a decently-sized metro area of about 430,000 people according to wikipedia. There’s a lot of glow from the city but on a cloudless night the Milky Way is as clear as ever (looks like clouds in the sky). Obviously this picture was taken with a bright moon which kills much of the view of the stars so there were no Milky Way pictures that night.
My goal was to make this image rather dramatic given the cloud formation and the processing steps to get there were rather simple. In Lightroom I removed a couple of stars within the angel shape with the spot removal tool. They detracted from the aesthetics of the overall image because they were too bright. [My opinion is that one is free to do this kind of thing as long as they don't dishonestly portray the final result as 100% accurate]. Then in Photoshop I used the channel mixer to tone the image to a blue-ish monochrome — I didn’t want a straight black and white image. [David Nightingale's tutorials have inspired a lot of experimentation with things like the channel mixer and with "dramatic" images in general]. I used a vibrance adjustment to back off on the blue a bit (couldn’t quite figure out the channel mixer settings to get the color just how I wanted it). I added one general s-curve and then another curve masked in to provide a touch of vignette. Some noise reduction and sharpening for the stars topped that off the Photoshop work. Once I was back in Lightroom I tweaked the color a tiny bit more because I wasn’t quite satisfied upon a second look.
Some of our family and friends are acquainted with a family in Alabama which lost both their home and father in the recent outburst of tornadoes. A friend had the idea of putting on a couple of benefit concerts to raise funds for this family so over the last two weeks many people have put forth a lot of effort to organize and prepare for the events. More information at http://helpthelees.com.
There’s another concert tonight in Fredericksburg, TX. See the above link for more information.
Photographical stuff…The lighting was a challenge. On the one hand the stage was very well lit for an indoor venue. However, the dynamic range was huge and it was tough to strike a balance between the spotlight on the piano with the light on the singers. I really needed an aperture somewhere around f/8 or above to get the singers and piano in focus but I also wanted a decent shutter speed to avoid motion blur (you know how musicians sway and get all dramatic ). I shot half in manual mode and half in aperture priority and tried to keep my shutter 1/125s or faster. An aperture of f/2.8 was good enough to barely keep the singers all in focus so I tried to stay around f/4. High ISO was a must…used ISO 4000 most of the night (the 5D mkii does a great job in that range). Processing was pretty much cropping, spot exposure adjustments in Lightroom, and noise reduction with Noiseware.
My daughter watched someone’s children at our house tonight and while we were all playing around with them I decided to get the camera out and see if I could capture a few cute pictures for this girl’s mother. This little girl was entertaining me with the jack-in-the-box while I laid on my belly in front of her snapping pictures. This was a really cute shot but I ran into one problem. I was shooting with 50mm lens and an on-camera flash with a 1/4 CTO gel bounced up and slightly behind me. That setup was producing great images until I ended up in a spot on the floor near our (very) red recliners. The back of the recliner sloped back such that when I rolled up against it the flash pointed directly up into the red cloth. Well, that made for a VERY pink child — no recovering from that without a lot of work in post and I doubt that I could have actually pulled it off.
So, I decided to go B+W with the image and ended up finding a great Lightroom preset called “WOW Glow 10″ which produced a grayscale image that was very pleasing. It was certainly better than I was coming up with doing my own B+W conversion with the channel mixer in Photoshop. I added some sharpening around the eyes, boosted contrast in the eyes with an s-curve, added a heavy vignette, a slight crop, and that was it. I have some ideas for improvement (I’ve been going through David Nightingale’s tutorials and have all sorts of ideas now) but IMO this is a great result for a 5-minute photo shoot and 5-minute edit. I’ll probably play around with some toning via curves when I get the chance but otherwise might just call this one done.
Due to a ticket snafu with Delta Airlines my daughter was delayed by a week on her trip to Africa. The new itinerary that Delta emailed the day before her flight showed that her destination was not even in the correct hemisphere! Fortunately Delta acknowledged that it was as much their mistake as it was ours so they fully refunded the old ticket and set her up with a flight in a week without any penalty for short notice. So, she gets to be home and see friends for another week.
With the additional time we decided to try a few more portraits and play around with the lighting. My friend “B” and two other daughters acted as voice-activated light stands and reflectors. In addition to the main light we added a hair light behind her. When I fired off the first few test shots the hair light didn’t trigger. However, one of those shots ended up being my favorite of the bunch. We were goofing off and I was fortunate enough to capture a natural, joyful look. You never know what “mistakes” will bring.
Lighting was a Canon 580 EXII with a 1/4 CTO gel through a white umbrella, triggered via Elinchrom Skyports. I believe it was at 1/4 power. Post-processing consisted of using the “Sharpening: Portraits” preset and adding a slight vignette in Lightroom to get rid of a few details which showed in the background.
[Side note: The Elinchrom skyports work 100% reliably when everything is connected properly. However, the transmitter has no means to tighten it on the hotshoe -- it relies on friction. Quite often a slight bump move it enough so that it does not make contact and things don't fire. It's not always visually apparent that the transmitter is not seated correctly. Still worth the money I think (otherwise excellent performance and "reasonably" priced). There's my Elinchrom Skyport review...]
Quick post tonight…
Today at lunch I joined Pete Talke, Steve Wampler, and Alex Suarez for a photo shoot in downtown Austin with a model named Tiffany. We took turns shooting pics and holding lights and reflectors. Tiffany was very easy to work with and we all got some great shots.
We started out in front of some cool doors on Colorado Street and in the course of an hour only moved a total of fifty feet. Next door to these doors is the entrance of a new bar called TenOak (the grand opening is tonight) — an entrance with another set of cool doors. We had been shooting for a while in front of the doors when one of the bar owners popped out and invited us to shoot inside if we’d send him some of the pics. Very cool…had the whole place to ourselves and he graciously encouraged us to shoot anywhere inside.
Rather than show pics of Tiffany just now, I thought I’d post a few environmental shots from our little shoot. Sometimes we all get so busy shooting that we forget to step back and grab some shots of the whole scene. I snapped a few shots of the group when we were out on the sidewalk and just before I had to take off I grabbed some bracketed shots in the bar with HDRs in mind. I didn’t have time to be very thoughtful about my compositions so bear with me. The image at the top shows a view of the bar with Tiffany posing on the bar itself (far side). Pete’s flash is on the bar at the right edge of the frame. He got some very cool shots with Tiffany’s reflection in the frame along with her (watch his blog — maybe he’ll post a couple).
The shot below is another view of the place and if you look carefully you’ll see Tiffany posing beneath the “E” in the “ELIXIR” sign.
Simple processing on both images: Photomatix, quick masking from original exposures, tweaks in Lightroom.
A few weeks ago I got “B” (his nickname) to pose for some impromptu portraits (Hi, B…I know you’ll be reading this). It’s nice to have someone other than my kids to use as a subject. I used two off-camera strobes — one for B and one for the background (the shots that aren’t processed so dramatically actually show the background). The main light was shot through a 43″ umbrella for some shots and reflected from that umbrella for others. In this shot the camera is camera-right, slightly higher than the subject, and just barely out of the camera frame. I don’t remember the power setting but we were generally using between 1/16 and 1/32 power. Flashes were controlled by Elinchrom Skyports.
For the background strobe I used various gels to change the color of the background (see this post for examples with a different subject). We had fun with it. And, when you’re having fun with photography, you are more likely to be creative, try new things, and come up with something cool.
In post, I played around with the images and ended up really liking this one. I used a preset called Freebird in Lightroom (a free preset I picked up somewhere). A couple other minor tweaks and this image was done. Dark. Mysterious. I love how the right eye is lit by its own little spot of light. I like about everything with this portrait except where the catchlights are in the eyes — I’d rather have them more in the center of the eyes. Live and learn. The best thing about this portrait is that it’s simple and every step is easy to recreate if I want to do it again.
On Wednesday I left work mid-afternoon — wasn’t feeling so great. I walked in the door at home, said ‘hi’ to my family while making a beeline to my bed. Three hours later I woke up to miserable aches and fever. While (barely) standing at the sink to get a drink of water I looked through the window and saw my daughter swinging. Loving that backlight from the sun, and remembering that the dailyshoot assignment was to take a photo using natural light, I grabbed the camera (which is always handy) and took this shot. I purposely included the window frame to give a sense of someone inside looking out. Headed right back to bed for the night at that point…
I had in mind to try and use the window frame in a rule-of-thirds mode but it just didn’t work out with the other elements in the frame as I tried options. Of course I only tried for about 30 seconds because I couldn’t get back to bed fast enough. I got a little lens flare…that’s OK sometimes and doesn’t detract from this shot IMO.
Finally processed the image the next day — picked a preset in Lightroom, added a bit of warmth and clarity — done.