Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait. It would be her “official” one-year picture. Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing. I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand. So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish. I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height). My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an Elinchrom Skyport. I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.
My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look. Blown out? Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post? From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes. In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots. My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired. The background light was adjusted “to taste”. I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).
The shot above was taken as a test during setup. The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites. The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin. I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.
For the second year in a row I’ve taken pictures for my daughters’ volleyball team. The individual shots were pretty much a piece of cake and they turned out great. The set up for those involved spreading a neutral-colored paint tarp on the floor to eliminate the red glow on the girls’ skin, standing the girls on a stool, setting up one speedlight (triggered with Elinchrom Skyports) shooting through a white umbrella for the key light, a strobe flashing the gym behind the girls to add light to the background, posing them with a volleyball, and firing away. These went very quickly as there was no change in setup between each girl. The gym is horrible for pictures but was workable for these individual shots.
We also goofed with some dramatic shots with the girls looking serious and got the shot above. The main light is the same speedlight-thru-umbrella held nearly on axis with the camera (slightly toward high camera left). The back light is simply a speedlight plopped on the floor. These took longer to get the girls set and posed, and as you see above, we never got the posing or the spacing quite right. We didn’t have all day so I had to take what I could get as they say. There are lots of photographic flaws but the girls and parents are plenty happy with the pic, which is what really counts.
I did some basic processing in Lightroom then headed to Photoshop to grunge out and darken the background (mostly with curves), do some very minor edits and retouching, noise reduction, and add the text.
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.
We *tried* to take some portraits of my wife and daughter but not everyone was cooperating. Eden was a bit fussy when we posed her but I snapped off some frames anyway. This is image is one — the ONLY one — worth keeping. Despite being the only good image I call it an outtake because it’s not at all the image I was after. I like the expression on my wife’s face and Eden’s outstretched arms but it has a few technical issues. For starters, because I was shooting near wide-open and my wife was moving back and forth to rock the baby, the focus is a bit off. We’ll try again soon.
This was shot with two lights: a Canon 580EXii at about 1/16 power in a small softbox at camera left for the key light and a Canon 430EXii high, behind my wife at camera right for hair/highlight (1/64 power and gel’ed with some ND to kill more of the power). The background is a sheet we hung in the hallway (yep, I need to get some backgrounds). I started by setting an exposure which killed the ambient. Using my older daughter as a test subject I then added the key light followed by the hair light. The background is not lit because my intent was to make it pitch black.
Before even shooting this my intent was to process in black and white but I haven’t even attempted to go that route in processing yet. I tweaked some areas in Lightroom then brought the image into Photoshop. I used masked curves to brighten the hair, eyes (a tad), and a few areas of skin. I also used curves to darken a few areas. One final curve dropped the red channel ever so slightly. I sharpened the hair and used noise reduction on the rest of the image. That’s all I can remember anyway…
Here’s another version of the same image which I processed slightly differently. I can’t personally decide which I like best although I lean toward the one at the top of the post which blends subject/background relatively seamlessly.
I’m thankful for:
Jesus dying in my place…I’m glad I don’t have to pay the eternal price for the garbage I’ve done.
Family…wife of nearly 25 years, 10 wonderful children, great extended family.
Friends…*good* friends, more than we can count.
Employment…21+ years in the same company.
Shelter…middle class by American standards…nicer than most of the world lives in.
Health…my back/knee problems are piddly compared to the problems of others.
I could go on but you get the idea. My son says that he’s thankful for the five F’s: forgiveness, family, friends, food, and football.
The portrait was lit with some fill through an umbrella at camera right, triggered via Elinchrom Skyports. I wanted to place the light on-axis just above the camera but the tree situation makes it impossible. The camera-right placement gives some odd shadows but it works well enough.
I took individual and team pictures of my daughter’s volleyball team and here’s one of the outtakes. It was an afterthought that I decided to try before calling it a day so we didn’t even bother including a ball like we did in the “normal” shots. Lighting was a Canon 580exii into a reflective umbrella in front at slightly camera left and a bare 430exii on the floor behind the team. The exposure was chosen to darken the ambient light quite a bit. The girls attempted to look serious for this dramatic shot (after having been smiling and goofing off in the previous pictures). If I could do it all over again with less time pressure there are some shadows I’d work on getting rid of (in-camera, not in post) and a few other changes I’d make but the girls are pretty happy with it.
For processing I did various tweaks to little spots here and there. The floor is a deep red so I used curves to decrease the red channel a bit (and the green channel a *tiny* bit). I added the text and colored it with a color I grabbed from the jerseys.
I’m doing a little craft project with my three youngest children to celebrate the fact that “God made ME”. Part of this uses a picture of themselves and I thought they would enjoy doing their own self portrait (I guess that’s a tautological statement). I was correct — they had a blast making faces, etc while they pressed the remote shutter release.
One light, no reflectors, no worry about background or whether shadows were filled in. I set up the flash with a shoot-thru umbrella (having the flash go off was half the fun for them), plopped it in a semi-open space, and sat them in a chair. The camera was on a tripod. No posing to speak of. No thought of changing into a shirt without fresh strawberry juice spots. Manual focus was used because they (well, the boys) moved around so much that the camera had trouble focusing in the dim light.
There were some really funny results. The picture above was my favorite though. He thought he had to point the remote at the camera. Very cute. Almost straight out of the camera — cropped and the exposure was bumped up 1/3 stop.
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…]
Took a few “impromptu” portraits today. These have been planned for a while because my daughter is getting ready to fly to Africa to visit family and we wanted to take a few portraits for her to print and take with her. Due to the busy-ness of our household lately we just hadn’t gotten around to taking pictures but now things are down to the wire — her flight is in the wee hours Tuesday morning. So, these became impromptu portraits — grab the gear, throw some makeup on, round up a few assistants (family members) to help, and head to the backyard before *all* the light is gone.
These images were both taken with an off-camera flash high camera front and left Joe McNally style (Joe McNally personally helped us light one of my other daughters a couple weeks ago — see posts here and here). The flash had a diffuser on it (Joe McNally’s recommendation) and was shot at 1/4 power through a white shoot-through umbrella just barely out of the frame. A white reflector was held low and right, also just out of the frame. I normally default to using a 1/4 CTO gel on the strobe in shots like this with warm daylight. However, given the already warm color of my daughter’s skin I didn’t gel the flash at all and it proved to be the right call. Once we dialed in the power on the strobe we took about 10 shots using two backgrounds and decided we had what we needed.
Last Friday evening I joined Alex Suarez, Steve Wampler, and Sylvia Brogdon for an impromptu photo shoot outside the Palmer Events Center. They had just spent the day in the Flash Bus seminar put on by Joe McNally and David Hobby and wanted to practice what they’d learned to help cement it in their minds. I was not able to attend the Flash Bus event but I wanted to join in and learn what I could and get some practice myself. Our models were “Eight” and my daughter Evelyn. The location was the grounds of the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX. It has many architectural features which lend themselves to unique portrait settings and there are different backgrounds to choose from on each side of the building.
As we got started, Steve talked about how David Hobby “lights in layers”. This is the process of building your setup one light at a time. Assuming a fixed shutter speed (at or below your max sync speed), start by picking the aperture which gives you the ambient light exposure you desire. The correct exposure is quite subjective of course — just find the one *you* want. You can darken the background somewhat or allow it to blow out. Next, add your main light and get it to the f-stop you want and in position. Finally, add fill as necessary and maybe even a rim light to light the hair or shoulders if you want.
We stuck with one or two lights and assisted each other by holding lights as we took turns shooting. I actually have as much fun helping with the shoot as I do taking the photographs and always enjoy the company too. We started out near the southwest corner of the building — very challenging due to the setting sun. The positive side of a situation like this is that it forces you think about solutions to the light problems, some of which equate to just going with it and trying to make interesting images with the light that is there, be it harsh or soft. The image at the top of the post was taken here with my daughter standing in the shadow of a large pillar. Shooting someone with very dark skin provides additional challenges as you need extra light to balance out the ambient and bring out the facial features. This extra light blows out light clothes (had that happen a lot) and sometimes other features like the pillar next to her. I shot in manual mode at 1/250s (max sync speed), did a few test shots without the strobe to pick my aperture (f/8) then began experimenting with light position and power. This shot had a strobe camera right, bare other than a 1/4 CTO gel, triggered with Elinchrom Skyports. I used my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for all the portraits (love that lens for these situations).
We moved to the northwest corner of the build for a bit and I got the shot below. No strobe used in this portrait. Alex used a silver reflector to direct the sunlight to Evelyn’s face and I shot from down low to get a reasonable background. Aperture priority was used with an f-stop of f/4. The light was literally golden even off the silver reflector — made her skin look great.
Another mass migration of gear and bodies occurred as we relocated to the north side of the building. There was great shade and many choices for backgrounds including the Austin skyline. I shot this final portrait (below) at this location. I chose an aperture of f/9.5 and set up two lights. The main light was again a 1/4 CTO gel’ed bare strobe at camera right. The fill was a bare strobe (I didn’t have tape or velcro for another gel) placed on the ground in front of the camera. I placed the strobes on different Skyport channels and experimented with each separately to adjust them to taste. I had to lay out on the ground (see the pic by Alex Suarez at the bottom of the post) to get the composition I wanted (Evelyn + The Austonian + TX flag). I was somewhat limited due the angle required for my composition and the locations of some trees which blocked the flag if I moved out of this position. I would have liked the wind to blow the flag up a bit more but I took what I could get. Someday I’ll work on perfecting this shot. I would try two things for starters: (1) use a shoot-through umbrella with an assistant (no assistant was handy for this shot and it was too windy to set it up without an anchor) and (2) try a stronger CTO gel to warm up the subject to match the background better. I prefer the darker backgrounds but I think I’d experiment with backing off to f/8 or even f/7.1.
After shooting the skyline portrait, Sylvia and I were helping Steve shoot portraits of my daughter. In a moment of serendipity, Joe McNally and David Hobby walked out of the building. Our group bantered with them and Joe made a smiling comment on the order of “good luck with that portrait” as their group walked to a spot nearby. After a minute or so he and David Hobby just couldn’t stand watching us flounder so they came over, gave a few tips, and Joe McNally even held the strobe/umbrella for a couple of shots. That was cool. I think they took pity on us in the same way that we would a distressed animal — you just can’t stand watching it suffer 🙂
I had a lot of fun shooting with these folks and my daughter had a blast being the model (she’s asking to do it again). Hopefully soon…
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.
Today I’m putting in a plug for a Raul Touzon workshop being held at the Dragonfly Gallery in Austin, TX. This workshop is called “The Portable Sun” and focuses on creative flash techniques. I’ve attended a Raul Touzon workshop in the past (please read my review here) and highly recommend him as a teacher. The images you see above and below were taken while attending that workshop. We spent some time on “the portable sun” although that wasn’t the focus of the previous workshop.
I’ve messed around with flash techniques (both on and off-camera) enough to know that you can get bogged down in the technical details in a hurry. That’s fine in some situations but there are times when you just need to know enough to make it work. I haven’t attended Raul’s portable sun workshop but based on my previous workshop experience I can say that he strikes a great balance between getting technical (he can go deep if you need to) and not missing “the moment” because you’re fiddling with dials and buttons on your camera and flash. There are times (especially in journalistic photography) when you just can’t get a flash meter out or fire off a series of test shots. The image of the lady in the bar (The Broken Spoke in Austin) was taken spur of the moment — no setup or test shots. You can see that I need some practice…but that’s why we attend workshops.
Go take this workshop. Registration info is here: http://www.dragonflygallerytx.com/workshopraulportable.htm
Here are links to my posts which have some reference to my Raul Touzon workshop experience:
I experimented with some profiles today. I didn’t have lofty goals but simply wanted to attempt to recreate a dramatic profile photo I had seen recently. My favorite result is shown above.
The inspiration for my work had been done with fancy studio lights with a huge softbox (at least 3’x5′ if not larger). There was essentially unlimited space in the studio which allowed the subject to be far from the background. The black surround on the softbox allowed the light to be prevented from lighting the background at all.
I had some limitations with my setup. I could only get my subject about 2.5′ from the background (a yellow wall in my house). With some furniture rearrangement I could have changed that but I’m still not allowed to do much in the way of exertion after my back surgery. I was also limited to a shoot-thru umbrella which allowed plenty of light to spill on the background. Tried flagging it with a blanket…no worky. I have a black cloth somewhere which would have allowed me to shoot into the umbrella, reflect the light, and block most of it from the wall. The key word is “somewhere”…not sure where that cloth is so I had to shoot through the umbrella.
Below is the first shot I ended up with. The background is lit by the spill from the strobe which had a 1/2 CTO gel on it (ambient was a non-issue at this exposure). I had done a custom white balance before shooting and both shots are straight from the camera with the exception of a bit of cropping.
The shot at the top with the blue background is almost the same shot except that I added a strobe with a 1/2 blue gel on it to light the background. My “assistant” used her hand to prevent the background strobe from directly lighting the subject. This background strobe was set to 1/32 power — doesn’t take much. I stopped down a bit on this shot to get the balance I was looking for between subject and background. I could have kept the same aperture and same main strobe power and moved the background light further back but the furniture was in the way again. Notice how the blue overcomes the natural yellow of the wall completely.
This was all very unscientific and ad hoc. There are so many more variables to play with: Getting the subject away from the background. Moving the subject such that the main light feathers around him differently. Higher key lighting on the background. Using grid spots on subject and/or background. Moving the background light around. Etc., etc., etc. It’s kind of fun to experiment. When my back is improved I’ll play around with these things more.
[Update: Some very important edits — mainly a shout-out to Dave Wilson — stayed on my desktop rather than making it into this post. Adding them in the second paragraph now…]
I took a photography workshop this past weekend (my first) and learned first and foremost how much I have yet to learn about photography. Teaching the workshop was Raul Touzon, a documentary photographer who does work for many big publications, including National Geographic. Thought I’d share a bit of my experience here.
The first thing I need to do is call out Dave Wilson and thank him for setting up this workshop and inviting me to it. Dave recently took a workshop with Raul and has been regularly posting images from that trip over the past few months. When he sent out a note saying that a workshop was being held in Austin AND it was very heavily discounted due to a mix-up in dates, I jumped on the opportunity. I’m extremely glad I did. Great learning experience. Great social experience as well — awesome, encouraging classmates.
Raul doesn’t mince words in his lectures and critiques and I got the definite sense that he rankled a few feathers among some students. Admittedly I was scared to death in anticipation of my first critique, and unfortunately I was the last (of 20-ish students) to be critiqued…had butterflies in my stomach for a couple hours. I did find it helpful to sit through the earlier critiques and by the end could predict much of what I would be critiqued on. I thought that Raul kept a good balance between getting in your face and encouraging you — I came away without any emotional wounds 🙂
For our photoshoot on the second day we spent the afternoon inside the Broken Spoke — an iconic Austin country bar and dance hall. We had models to shoot and were to work with the many different light sources in the place and to use off-camera flash when appropriate. We had the following general rules for our shoots:
(1) Use your widest lens — 10-20mm in my case
(2) NO headshots or plain-old portraits — if you’re shooting people make them
environmental shots. Use interesting angles.
(3) NO edits allowed — images presented for critique in front of the class had to
come straight from the camera w/o adjustment or cropping.
These restrictions were quite difficult for most of us — weren’t used to shooting this way at all.
I enjoyed shooting with the models (I can’t ever get my kids to model for more than 3 clicks these days). As the day finished up I approached the young lady in the image above (a customer) and asked if I could photograph her. She was more than happy to oblige and began to tell me about herself and some of the other ladies at the table. This is one of the shots that the instructor picked as keeper-ish out of the 20+ I had to submit. I was shot handheld with the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left.
While no one would describe this shot as “way out there”, it definitely is something I never would have shot before. Wide angle for a portrait? Would never cross my mind. Angled composition? Nope. That half sign in the background? No again. What did the instructor like? Unique angle, foreground of the hands on the menu, menu has the name of the place, the sign adds to the sense of where you are and explains the lighting on the hair, the contrast on the face. The eyes — while normally you want to get those eyes lit the shadows exaggerate the heavy mascara put on for a night of dancing. He explained much that could be improved of course but he pointed out some positive aspects that I could keep in mind for future shots.
I was certainly challenged to approach photographs in a new way. While I need a lot of work to consistently execute what I learned, I have another set of tools and more ways to approach an image moving forward.
Dave Wilson’s site: http://davewilsonphotography.com/
Raul Touzon’s site: http://www.touzonphoto.com/
More about the picture of Texas Governor Rick Perry later in the post…
Anyone who knows me would tell you that as long as the discussion stays civil, I’m more than happy to sit and discuss politics over coffee or a meal. However, I try hard to avoid political discussion in any online setting.
Why? Here are some of the reasons:
1) It takes (me) a lot of time to write thoughtful, insightful, well-reasoned commentary. I don’t have the time (nor the skill probably) to write *well*. With verbal, face-to-face communication you still have to be thoughtful, insightful, and reasoned but you have the benefit of immediate rebuttal and explanatory remarks. You also have the advantage of seeing facial expressions and hearing the “tone” of the conversation.
2) The Kevin Bacon theory…There are six degrees of separation between the “I don’t agree with that” comment and the guy who says, “You’re a !#$%#$! jerk and your mother wears army boots”. People are very brave (and thoughtless) over an internet connection. What a waste of time. Now that I’m thinking about it I’d say it’s usually only 2-3 degrees of separation.
3) Discussions often end up in a barrage of anecdotes flying back and forth. Healthcare debates are a great example — “So and so died because they didn’t have health insurance” vs “So and so died because such and such country’s healthcare bureaucracy prevented them from getting care”. Both stories may be true…but did you really get anywhere in the discussion? Anecdotes have their place but IMO a handful of anecdotes are not a sufficient basis for most policy decisions.
3a) Candidate discussions tend to focus on anecdotes as well. In any discussion about imperfect humans there will be no shortage of flaws to point out. A candidate’s character, skeletons, inconsistencies (real or apparent), etc. are all important to evaluate. However, at some point one needs to make a judgment about who will do the best job, do the right things, etc. Online discussions of political figures rarely seem to get there…they’re mostly just rants about people you really only know through carefully-crafted sound bites (pro and con) and a few sentences of print.
So…about that photo of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The Texas primary elections were held this past Tuesday. I’ll skip the details but my daughter and I ended up getting invited by a new acquaintance to Governor Rick Perry’s election watch party at the Salt Lick BBQ restaurant in Driftwood, TX. The Salt Lick is right around the corner from my house so we decided to join in. I stopped by my house and grabbed the camera and flash and headed over there.
I didn’t realize ahead of time how big a deal this was going to be. Every news outlet in the nation was there — I have never seen so many news trucks and satellite dishes in my life. CNN and a few others had immense broadcasting tour buses. Inside, the podium was lit by a wall of lights from all the news coverage. Maybe I’ll add a picture of that later…
Once inside we took care of “first things first” — hit the buffet line and ate some great BBQ.
I was using a Canon 50D with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with my 580EXii on camera. I was fairly close to the action but had to experiment quite a bit with settings. The first problem I had was blown out highlights. The Salt Lick Pavilion is relatively dark and has dark wood on the walls and ceiling. The camera automatically thinks it needs a bunch of flash to light the scene. However, the main subject (the governor in the shot above) actually needs very little light due to the bazillion watts of light from the news orgs at camera right. When I let the camera have complete control with no compensation the governor’s face (at least the side toward the news lights) was completely blown out. I tried bouncing the flash — “no worky” — those dark wood ceilings and walls eat almost all the light. I had to shoot with the flash pointed straight at the governor then I experimented with a combination of dialing down both exposure and flash compensation to get my preferred combination of governor and background. I really just needed enough to see the crowd a bit and fill some shadows on the governor. Then there were all those other flashes going off which messed things up here and there…was a great photography learning experience.
I also took this shot below of my daughter with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Notice that there are almost no shadows on the faces. I did have the flash partially bounced off the ceiling here but the lack of shadow under the nose shows that almost all the exposure came from the part of the light that went directly from the flash to the faces. That’s my reading of the situation anyway. Love the face of that guy in the background!
We actually had a great time and met some interesting (in a good way) people at the event. I also learned some photography lessons along the way. Practice makes perfect.
I’d really like to learn how to better make use of strobes be they on or off camera, big or small. I have a basic wireless setup and am gradually learning with help of sites such as strobist.com. One recent afternoon I happened on one of my daughters playing the piano (*someone* is always playing the piano in our house) and I decided to take advantage of the situation to experiment with off-camera flash. She continued to play — I started shooting.
At first I didn’t even bother to get the light stand out. I used the “foot” that comes with the Canon 580EXii and placed the flash at various points on, around, and under the piano. Sometimes I shot from the same side as the light, sometimes I shot such that the light created a backlight effect. I used CTO (that would be orange) gels and blue gels…just had fun with it.
I got permission from my daughter to post the shot above (she hadn’t done “hair and makeup”). There are some details I don’t like about it but for a quick experimental session I thought it turned out cool. This was lit via flash @ 1/32 power through a 43″ umbrella at camera left. I used a full-CTO gel (Why? Because that’s what happened to be on when I got this shot). Inspired by this post, I used shutter speed to control the ambient. I used a fast shutter speed to darken the ambient (for the purpose of eliminating the background in my case). It was mid afternoon and there’s a very large window a few feet from the piano. The background was very busy — pictures on the wall, an old lamp, part of a door frame — but I was able to remove it in-camera to the point where slight background color variation was all that was left. I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom to remove that by reducing the exposure in these areas (literally a 10-second fix).
Lots to learn yet but I’m having fun so far.
Loving off-camera flash…
Over the holidays I invested in some new equipment, including a flash, stand, umbrella, and wireless triggers. I’ve been putting the family through some quickie portrait sessions and thought I’d share some of the results (mostly because I’m a proud dad).
I played with all sorts of lighting variables in these pictures — flash power, distance of flash to subject, placement relative to subject (straight-on vs. side and also height), gels, reflectors, etc. I’d love to give a tutorial based on what I learned but I’ll refer you to strobist.com (or pick your favorite “strobist” site) for that since I’m still very low on the learning curve. All these portraits used a single strobe.
This first image was taken ad hoc when my five-year old son walked in the door after a trip to the barber. He looked so cute that I couldn’t resist getting some shots. Elijah was begging to get in the shower to rinse off the itchy hair so I quickly set up and started shooting — guessing at the flash power. I believe I used a 1/2 or 1/4 CTO gel for the final shots. If you’re observant you’ll notice chocolate on his nose and cut hair on his face. No matter…good picture in spite of it (maybe a better picture because of it).
The portrait below is my daughter Erin and son-in-law Josh — their first Christmas together. The lighting was more of a challenge and I got the best results lighting from his side (I’ve always heard that it’s best to have your main light on the female side but we liked this one the best). Depth of field came into play here also. I wanted to shoot f/4.0 so I had to be careful about keeping them posed so their faces were both in focus. In a few shots his head was just too far back to remain in focus.
Another challenge was the dark skin of a few of my children. Had to play around with all the variables to get something I was reasonably happy with (I think I’d tone the lighting down if I did this over). Here’s one of the images:
I’ve got a ton to learn about lighting but I’m happy with the results of my experimentation so far.