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.
The 2013 Longhorn Open (annual racquetball tournament at the University of Texas) featured the #1 ranked women’s racquetball player in the world, Paola Longoria. Learn how to consistently hit shots like the one above and you’re one step closer to a #1 ranking. I decided to take a few pictures on the final day of the tournament — just to see how they’d turn out. I shot in manual mode and played around with the balance between aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (freezing the players and the ball), and high ISO (noise considerations). The lighting was actually pretty good in most of the courts, allowing “reasonable” settings. Most of the courts didn’t have any viewing area except from above. That isn’t so great for pictures but I was just experimenting anyway. Focusing was another challenge and I frankly never figured out a good strategy.
It’s only the second year we’ve taken this photo, but we’re calling it a tradition anyway. We once again piled wrapping paper on ourselves and snapped a family photo. No one is posed — “sit down, grab some wrapping paper, and smile at the camera”. I used f/8 to get sufficient(ish) depth of field and the lighting is simply an on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera. I have a wireless remote but used the self-timer for this shot (I had forgotten to get the remote out and everyone was just ready to get the pic done and go make breakfast). I ended up having to photoshop a new version of myself and one of my daughters into the shot — that’s standard operating procedure in our family shots it seems.
Our traditional Christmas Eve consists of consuming a meal of assorted sausages, cheeses, and crackers while watching Muppet Christmas Carol. We always have a fire going in the fireplace no matter the weather — it’s usually cool enough. The final hidden presents are wrapped and placed around the Christmas tree and all go to bed with great anticipation.
This year my wife had Christmas pajamas for all the “littles” (some of which are growing to be “middles”). She asked me to take a photo of the kids just before bedtime and the result is shown above. I shot from (roughly) the kids’ eye level and used either manual or shutter-priority mode (can’t remember) with a 1/4 CTO gel’ed flash bounced off the wall/ceiling behind me. In the upper left hand corner you can see the well-lit wall reflected in our glass doors. Had this been a more “official” shot I would have switched angles, bounced the flash over my other shoulder, etc. in order to minimize the bright reflections. The littlest one only has so much patience though so we to fire off some shots and call it a day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As much as I don’t want to post my mistakes — especially the really stupid ones — they can be helpful to look back on and point out to others. It depends on the natural light situation of course, but in a portrait like the one above I often use a single strobe through, or reflected from, an umbrella placed above-camera. This may be to provide a catchlight in the eyes, a bit of fill in the eye sockets, some overall light, or all of the above. I occasionally use a bare strobe (well, sometimes with a gel but no other modifiers) to give a hint of a rim light on the shoulders to help separate the subjects from the background. My daughter typically holds this in position behind the subjects when I use it. During a recent family portrait shoot on the grounds of the Texas Capitol I pulled a real boneheaded move with this light.
Just before we shot the pose above (which fortunately wasn’t the “preferred” pose) I got my rim light strobe out of the bag and quickly tested that everything was working (flash on, remote trigger operational, my guesstimated manual power set). All was well so I dropped it in the grass and we set to arranging people and reminding the kids not to watch the squirrels running around. We shot a bunch of frames to make sure we caught everyone looking their best-ish and moved on to our next pose. I had decided not to use the rim light because the separation from the background seemed fine.
To my horror, when I loaded the pics up on the computer at home, I noticed that all the shots of this pose had a bright light in the grass and two of the subjects were lit like they were being blasted by the sun. Well, they *were* being blasted — by my portable sun as you see in the picture below. I had left it turned on and the trigger active…probably at 1/4 power. Oops. I couldn’t believe I had not noticed this while chimping my test shots. My (young) daughters didn’t point it out — one didn’t even notice and the other assumed that I intended to use the flash that way.
Needless to say it was a big mistake. While this was not the ideal pose we wanted to keep one from this set. I was fortunate enough to have a reasonable fixable frame in the bunch so I went to work. Switched a head, toned down some of the effects from the misplaced strobe, and made the other usual edits. I believe the photo *is* completely salvageable given enough effort and time and I may work on it for practice in the future.
Lesson learned. Chimp and look around the *whole* frame — Check everything…check again.