portrait

Family Tradition

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait   35mm, f/8, 1/40

Our Traditional Family Christmas Portrait 35mm, f/8, 1/40

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.

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One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas

Christmas Portrait

Christmas Portrait

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.


Always A Bridesmaid…

Bridal Party     140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

Bridal Party 140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

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.


Birthday Candid

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/8185029570/in/photostream

Birthday Candid 140mm, f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 200

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.


Lady Cougars 2012

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.


Fearless

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/8090063090/in/photostream

Fearless

We recently spent a week at a family camp and one of the activities was rappelling from the top of a 45′ tower (or you could climb the other side of it).  My eight year old couldn’t get enough of this.  He was absolutely fearless and did it over and over.  I made him stand for the portrait above before he bounded up the stairs so he could do it once again.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/8090059433/in/photostream

Descending


The Crew

20120728_WoodBurning

The Crew

We recently had visitors and it was a good opportunity for the kids and their visiting friends to have some fun making fires.  Fire, chainsaws…fun stuff indeed.  We were sure to capture some pictures of them together since they live 1000+ miles away and don’t get to visit often.  I used the tripod and wireless remote to get the group shot above.  They were supposedly going for the serious look in the photo below but they never could manage it.

The image above is actually a crop of a larger Brenizer pano that I attempted.  It would’ve been a cool Brenizer except that the smoke in the background varied so much as the individual frames were being taken.  That led to some odd-looking stuff in the final stitch (some of which is actually evident, but not too obvious, in the photo above).  Little puffs of smoke blurred the image in some (small) places which looked rather unnatural.  I didn’t bother saving that larger view.

For safety reasons we keep the fires small and don’t constantly add new “fuel” to them.  This gives the kids plenty of time for play and exploration — they have a blast out there.  There are imaginary forts under the trees, deer tracks to follow, scorpions to find under rocks, and snakes to (pretend you want to) find.  We haven’t run across any rattlers or coral snakes at our place yet but they’re certainly around.  Fortunately I’ve only seen them dead on the road when I’m out running rather than live in the yard.


Quit Using Auto White Balance

White Balance Fixed 50mm, f/1.4, 1/160s

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.

White Balance Settings In Lightroom

Original image:

Original Image


Working (Young) Men

I Think I Need A New Hat…

IMO an important part of growing up is learning how to work.  I’ll say the caveats up front: We’re not slave drivers, we have a lot of fun too, blah, blah, blah.  We’ve finally had our burn ban lifted since we’ve been receiving some rain lately.  Our burn pile has been growing, and growing, and growing — especially since it includes an old carpenter ant tunneled playscape.  The boys have been anxious to get the fire going (all boys are pyros, no?) so I put off the rest of my to-do list and spent the afternoon burning.  Once it was stoked we really couldn’t add wood very fast (at least not if we wanted to keep it under control) so the boys played in the wood pile and one even built a mini fort inside the pile.  I reminded him to watch for snakes and he just said, “All I see is sticks”.  After a long pause I heard him mutter, “But I guess the snakes match the sticks…”.

I had my daughter bring out my Canon 50D so I could grab some pics.  I had only snapped a couple and it started to rain so that camera got put away.  I would have liked to switch lenses as the telephoto lens compressed the scene a bit much for my liking, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  [It was a typically unpredictable Texas weather day: hot and sunny in the morning, thunderstorms whipped up and it poured, went back to bright and sunny (and humid), and as I write I hear thunder again]  I did get out my Canon S90 later and got a couple more pictures.  The top photo was the 50D, bottom was the S90.


Winter Dresses…In July

Winter Dresses 90mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200

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.