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.


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.


Jesus Loves The Little Children

The Line 70mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

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.

Belly Flop!!! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

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.

(Most of) the Gang 70mm, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

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.

Jump! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/320s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

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.


Pool Monster

Pool Monster 70mm, f/13, 1/125s, fill flash

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.


Family Portraits…Another Lesson Learned

(Mostly Salvaged) Family Portrait

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.

Unedited Frame


The Making Of A Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Texas Capitol Grounds   80mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 100

This post could also be titled “What Are You Paying A Portrait Photographer For?”.  Important caveat: the comments below have nothing to do with the family in the portrait.  Their portrait just provides a convenient moment to bring up the subject.

There’s great debate in the world of photography regarding business and pricing models.  Some well-known photographers go so far as to denigrate other photographers because they price things cheaply, sell CDs with all the images, charge only $1000 to shoot a wedding and reception, etc.  I’m in the camp of “I’ll do things my way but I couldn’t care less how someone else does it”.  If someone wants to charge $50 for a photo shoot and a CD of images, so what?  If someone wants to let a publication use an image in exchange for “exposure”, so what?  I’m amazed when photographers actually get personally offended at other photographers for this — it’s a free world and everyone is free to give away whatever they want.  I’m not going to shoot weddings for $1000 or hand out digital images on the cheap (except for photo donations to certain organizations like this — shameless plug — I donated the Austin skyline image at the top of the American Red Cross of Central Texas page and images for a couple other sites) but I don’t care if anyone else does.  If I cannot add enough value to make it worth purchasing my services — taking photos, providing prints, etc. — then I don’t deserve the business.  If Joe Blow undersells me by some huge margin and the client is happy with the result, that’s my fault for not clearly differentiating myself (and I’m apparently not as good as I might think!).  If the client isn’t happy with Joe Blow…it’s either my fault for not convincing them my services are worth it or theirs for being duped by the “too good to be true” offer.  Also, not every client is willing to pay for the same level of service and/or quality — that’s true for any type of product.  That’s why there are both Toyota Corollas and BMW 750s available on the auto market for example.

Along those lines, a common remark is “I can’t believe I have to pay so much for a print!”.  Often the comment includes “…when I can just go to Walgreens and pay $XX”.  Ignoring the issue of the poor print/color quality you may get at a Walgreens, I’ll tell you what went into producing the family portrait above in hopes of giving some understanding of why you might pay so much for a “print”.  If you’re not convinced, that’s fine — not everyone cares about the same level of quality or detail and it’s completely within the rights of every consumer (of any product) to choose the product that suits them.  It’s also the right of a photographer to specify “You aren’t printing anything with my name on it at a Walgreens”.

The short answer: You’re not just paying for a print (ie just a piece of paper).  You’re paying for equipment, art/creativity, editing, making you look your best, years of skill building and practice, etc.  After all, you’re hiring a photographer because you know you can’t just hand your point-and-shoot to someone on the street and get the family portrait you are after.  You are also (hopefully) hiring a photographer because he *knows* how to go make that picture you want and doesn’t just press the shutter over and over in the hope of accidentally getting a good shot.  I think that people accept this more when it comes to most other forms of art or craft.  If you commissioned an artist to create an oil painting to hang over your mantle and he charged $500, would the first thing out of your mouth be “But you only had to pay $50 for the canvas and paint!”?

So, what went into this photo?  Here’s a partial list:

(1) Picking a decent time and location.  Upon arrival, quickly picking a specific spot to provide good light, a good background without distracting elements (subjective of course).  Or…scout a location ahead of time.  The location for the above portrait is the Texas Capitol grounds.  The time was chosen in an attempt to balance getting a family out the door early enough for good light and cooler temperatures, yet late enough to not be miserable.  There was a partial gamble here — we went a little later than I’d like gambling that the partially cloudy skies would block the sun often enough.  That gamble paid off.

(2) Pick the right lens.  Long/wide/normal…this has a big effect on the final image.

(3) Determine aperture.  I wanted to go as wide open as possible for maximum blur in the background.  However, in a family portrait in particular, depth of field really comes into play.  Even if you calculate the “right” DOF you have to be careful where you focus.  For example, if the people in the portrait are 2 feet deep and you use an aperture which gives you a total DOF of about 2 feet, you had probably better not focus on a face in the front of your group.  If you do, some of your in-focus plane will be in front of the group while the rear of the group will start to go out of focus.  I’m not explaining that well but suffice it to say that it matters.  There’s always the option to stop way down and get a bunch of the background in focus to be safe but that’s not (generally) what you want.  For this photo I varied position and focal length a little bit but was generally working with about a 3′ depth of field at f/4.

(4) Determine optimal exposure around the chosen aperture — shutter, ISO.  If using a strobe, be sure the shutter is within the maximum sync speed (Don’t know what that is? That’s why you pay a photographer.).  Set up a strobe — triggered remotely — and umbrella with enough light to provide good fill yet not so much light that the image screams “FLASH WAS USED!”.  Yes, flash was used in this image.  Direct assistant (daughter) to position the light certain ways.  Shoot whenever the sun is behind the clouds.  I set my exposure for this case and timed the shooting accordingly.

(5) Arrange the family reasonably — lots of options and opinions here but time is precious (see next item).  I could name 5 immediate things I’d change about the posing in this photo but we were trying to get something quick.  Pay particular attention to dad being in a masculine pose of some sort.  You don’t know the difference between masculine and feminine poses?  That’s another reason you pay a photographer.  Have you ever seen a family photo where the dad has his knees turned together and his hands folded gently on his lap?  It doesn’t usually look masculine.  Note that it has nothing to do with “macho”, but most dads don’t want to look like a total sissy.  Shoot the family arrangement with enough margin in the photo for various cropping options (uncropped photo above).

(6) Do all the above before the kids have the meltdown that the mom warns you about (picture-taking is pure boredom for kids and they may not last long).  That’s why the background may not be perfect, light may not be perfect, and posing may not be perfect — you need to get *something* before you hit the point where you can’t get *anything*.

That’s the picture “taking” part.  Then you have the “picking” part:

(7) Import your photos to your favorite software.  Go through them one-by-one with a semi-critical eye to weed out the absolute rejects and pick the possible candidates for editing.

(8) Go through the pictures with a MORE critical eye.  Smiles, eyes, hair, positions…which are the keepers?

Then come the edits.  The saying is “Get it right in the camera” but some realities come into play.  Pick the best photographer you know and ask them if they use many images straight out of the camera.  Not a chance.  In our case, remember all that hustling to get *something* before the kids melt down?  We got our exposure right in the camera but I didn’t try to perfect the posing, didn’t take time to pick up every distracting leaf/branch.  I left some background elements in that I knew I could reasonable fix later.  And so on…

(9) General edits…tweaks to white balance, contrast, etc.  Includes making use of your experience regarding how a photo will print in addition to what it looks like on your screen.

(10) Switch mom’s head to get her nice smile in the same image as her kids’ nice smiles (resize it, rotate it, mask it in and make it look like it belongs).  Fix gaps in mom’s hair so it’s as nice as the head we replaced (thanks to Scott Kelby for excellent tips on how to replace/add whole sections of hair — worked like a charm).

(11) Replace one child’s face.  Same smile as the one we started with but in the original they were moving and therefore blurry.  Fortunately we had an exact match (size, position, and smile) in another frame which was sharp.

(12) Remove a scab, some drool, and stray hairs.  Tone down a few specular highlights on the lips.  Remove dead leaves in the grass.  Replace some background elements with trees and vegetation.  I even added a technical flaw (on purpose) to make the photo more aesthetically pleasing.  I won’t point it out but some clever person will probably notice it.

(13) Touch up bags under eyes…hey, the kids got up really early for this.  I don’t like to go to an extreme but I at least tone them down.  Some photos might require significant skin touch up (this photo didn’t need any other than the bit under the eyes).

(14) More general stuff…vignette, selective sharpening, local exposure and contrast tweaks to taste.

All told — hours worth of work.  Although I have MANY more skills to learn, what skills I do possess so far came not only from work on this photo, but hours worth of practice in weeks, months, and years past to learn the skills needed to set up, take, and edit the photo.  Maybe a few things are overkill and just part of my perfectionist bent (I see plenty more that I would tweak even).  However, I don’t want mom to walk by the mantle for years and think “I wish that tuft of hair wasn’t hanging down over my forehead” or dad to think “I wish so and so would have held still so they would be in focus” and so on.


Pike Place Market

Pike Place 50mm, f/2.8, 1/100s

A recent picture of two of my girls strolling in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  Looking forward to getting back to Seattle soon.

Tulips 50mm, f/2.8, 1/160s

I loved the contrast between the blues in the windows and the oranges/yellows in the flowers in the next shot.

More Flowers 50mm, f/1.4, 1/3200s

Peppers 50mm, f/2.2, 1/160s

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.

Portrait 50mm, f/14, 1/200s


Candid Baby Girl

Smile 105mm, f/4.5, 1/20s

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…

170mm, f/4.5, 1/30s

I Want That Cup!!!  70mm, f/4.5, 1/45s


The Fawn

Fawn 85mm, f/5.6, 1/180s

The kids found a fawn in the yard today.  I wasn’t home when the fawn was discovered and arrived at the house to find my 7-year old son on the phone with a rancher friend asking what we should do.  He told us to leave it alone but send him a picture.  We slowly approached and took a few shots.  The fawn wrinkled its nose a bit but other wise ignored us even when we were in arm’s length…seemed sick or something.  However, a couple of hours later the kids reported that it was running around the yard.  All was well.  Oh yeah, photo processing was mostly hitting the Auto button in Lightroom.

Fawn 150mm, f/5.6, 1/180s


Missing The Snow

I never thought I’d say it, but after the heat today I wouldn’t mind being back in the snow (grass is greener thing).  In March we enjoyed some tubing at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington.  Some of us really didn’t have the clothes for it but we made do and decided to tough it out — it was great.  Given our snow activities I only brought along an old point-and-shoot for the actual tubing part, but the portrait at the top was taken with my DSLR on a tripod.  The idea with the tripod was that I would be in the picture as well, using the remote to trigger the shutter.  I couldn’t get the remote to work, however, and it was too far of a run around the snow piles to use the timer…AND I really didn’t feel like explaining to any passers-by how I wanted the shot composed (rarely seems to work out).  The little ones were freezing and were just ready to be done anyway.  For the other shots the point-and-shoot worked fine — mostly.  The main problem I had was that the white balance was all over the place and made each shot look like entirely different light.  I got a few “action” shots but just liked the “environmental portraits” better.

Relaxing On The “Lift”

It’s A Long Walk When You Wipe Out And Have To Fetch Your Tube


Will My Photos Be Treasured For Generations?

I LOVE old family pictures and recently received this one from my father.  In this Tolsma family photo is my paternal grandmother (standing on the left) with her parents and siblings.  My great-grandfather passed away in 1935 but my great-grandmother (wearing glasses) lived until my high school years and my siblings and I were fortunate to know her.  I’m guessing this photo would have been taken in the mid to late 1920s based on my grandmother’s age and the age of her youngest brother (born 1924 I believe).  My great grandparents both came from the Netherlands at a young-ish age and married in Minnesota.  As a kid I remember my father talking about all his aunts and uncles but I was generally confused — couldn’t remember who was who, etc.  Now that I’m grown I wish I knew so much more about all the family history.

One thing I notice when looking at this portrait is the amazing resemblance between the members of the Tolsma family and the descendants I grew up with — brothers, sisters, cousins, more distant cousins, my own children — I see all their faces in these faces.  Kind of weird, but in a cool, amazing way.

For family reunions my maternal grandfather has written up and handed out a history of their family and we really enjoy it.  I’m inspired to write one about our family and update it over the years.  Even if our life seems rather mundane at present, I’m certain that future generations will appreciate having it preserved and shared with them.   I hope that the pictures I’m taking (like our family portrait below) are treasured by those born many, many generations from now in the same way I treasure the photo above.

Family Portrait


So…Are You Going To Take My Picture Or What?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/7130385205/in/photostream

Impromptu Portrait 125mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400

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 🙂


The First Starbucks

On a recent trip to Seattle my daughters and I paid a visit to the first Starbucks.  I’m not usually very interested in something like this but thought, “Hey, we were right here so we might as well do it.”.  While the place isn’t that interesting or unique when viewed as just bricks and mortar it becomes a bit more when you think of what Starbucks has become.  This location also operates in a different manner than your typical Starbucks — and that gives the place some charm.  Upon entering the door an employee welcomes you, inquires where you are from, and directs you to the next available person to take your order.  Once your order is taken, your cup is tossed across the room to the barista.  We witnessed a couple of misses…maybe they were rookies.  They were all having fun though.

Of course I had to take a few pictures.  Using my 50mm @ f/1.4, I quickly figured out an exposure and fired away.  There were a lot of people so I limited my shots a bit.  For the image at the top my hope was to frame the counter, barista, the neon “Espresso…Cappuccino” sign, and Starbucks sign such that they were all completely readable but I never quite got it.  Unlike some photographers, I’m not willing to sit there in everyone’s way, holding up the crowd, etc. just for my shot…just not that important to me.  I could have waited for an opportunity but when I’m hanging with non-photographers (especially family) I try not to push their patience *too* much by spending all day taking pictures.

I processed the image at the top with the intent to make it look rather vintage and I added some grain to top it off.  The rest were straightforward edits — basic tweaks.

You ordered HOW many shots?!?!


Just A Bunch Of Posers

Posers 45mm, f/5, 1/250s, ISO 200

On a recent photo walk on the University of Texas campus these three joined in and were simply having a blast posing and taking pictures of each other.  They were quite fun to watch and the provided the rest of us with some interesting pictures too.  Unfortunately they dropped out of the group at some point and I never got the chance to properly meet them.


Party Portrait

My Beautiful Wife 70mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 3200

Candids are often my favorites and this is no exception for more reasons than one.  This shot was not posed at all unless you count “Please look over here for a second” as posing.  My wife of 25+ years loathes being in front of the camera so I appreciate that she indulged me this time.  There was nothing to bounce flash off of (outdoors, no roof or ceiling overhead, no wall nearby) so I used direct flash with a diffuser.  I started the evening using a 3′ sync cord and holding the flash off-camera at arm’s length but tired of that fairly quickly.  Lightroom was used for most of the processing and for noise reduction (ISO 3200 was used) but I also cloned out a few unattractive elements around the scene.  I didn’t do any skin retouching or the like.


Seattle Skyline…Rained Out

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6840336856/in/photostream

Kerry Park, Seattle, Bokeh Panorama 50mm, f/1.4, 1/2000, ISO 200, stitched from 16 frames

My daughters and I went to downtown Seattle today to hang out and on the way we stopped in Kerry Park (thanks, Jim Nix for suggesting it).  I had low expectations regarding the weather but did hope to grab a skyline panorama in any case.  Long story short, the rains came and other visitors got in the way somewhat so all I managed was the quick, handheld bokeh panorama (from 16 frames) shown above.  I look at it as making lemonade out of lemons — we did what we could given the conditions.  I gave up on my plans for a high-res (zoomed in and in-focus) panorama since the rain was hard and blowing directly on to the lens.  We headed to lunch at Pike Place Market and afterward the clouds broke and the sun peeked out.  We headed back to Kerry Park on our way back home but by the time we got there it was raining hard again — could barely even see across the water.  I didn’t bother trying any more photos.  I may try some black and white treatments with this one someday…