It’s only the second year we’ve taken this photo, but we’re calling it a tradition anyway. We once again piled wrapping paper on ourselves and snapped a family photo. No one is posed — “sit down, grab some wrapping paper, and smile at the camera”. I used f/8 to get sufficient(ish) depth of field and the lighting is simply an on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera. I have a wireless remote but used the self-timer for this shot (I had forgotten to get the remote out and everyone was just ready to get the pic done and go make breakfast). I ended up having to photoshop a new version of myself and one of my daughters into the shot — that’s standard operating procedure in our family shots it seems.
Our 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.
I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post. We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures. It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky. Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light. Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.
The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones. In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”. We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking. If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed. Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight. The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.
My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO. I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash. This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50’+). Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light. Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out. Both methods were effective in their own way. With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever. I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time). A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise. Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it. Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.
In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures). All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out. The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough. There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.
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.
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.
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.
We played in the snow today — quite a change from the warm, Texas weather. While I have no interest in living in a snowy climate again I do enjoy getting in the snow every once in a while. I took five of my children up to Stevens Pass in Washington for the express purpose of playing in the snow. There has been all sorts of snow up there in the past few days so we knew it would be fun. Things looked even better when it began snowing in the Seattle area before we even left the house.
After getting all wet and cold we headed back down the mountain and explored some side roads to enjoy the scenery. At one spot my daughter (the one in the picture above) pointed out a spot she thought would be nice for a group photo (below). At another nearby spot she asked me to take a few pictures of her in front of a bridge and the snow-covered trees (no one else wanted to get out of the car again).
Photo stuff…In the group photo below you can see the snow falling in front of our faces — we wanted to show the extent of the falling snow. However, in the individual shots we wanted to avoid the snow in the face and found a space under some trees which allowed that. However, it was so dark that we had to add some flash into the mix (no gels used). With the others waiting in the car I didn’t spend much time perfecting things but we like what we got.
The odd composition above came from just moving around trying different things out. I don’t like it…but my daughter does so I’m posting that one.
Just plain cute. I grabbed this while my wife and her sister were trying to get our youngest to smile for the iPhone. Sometimes these are the best pictures.
Since this is supposed to be a photography blog I can’t leave out the processing…I hit the “Auto” button and did a couple other minor tweaks in Lightroom. Manual mode, flash bounced off the wall behind the camera.
I was revisiting some of my favorite photos recently — most of which don’t get shared because they aren’t worth much photographically speaking. I decided to share this one since it’s a good illustration of a semi-candid shot that one might not consider taking but ends up being a (personally) memorable shot. After opening all our presents on Christmas Eve morning we gathered all of us (minus the two out-of-town siblings and the baby who was sleeping), threw wrapping paper around, and snapped some photos. The setup was simple: camera on a tripod with on-camera flash bounced on the wall behind the camera. I have a remote but I just used the self-timer here. If I were trying to get the “ideal” shot I would have rearranged the room to allow a longer lens to be used and avoid the distortion from the wide-angle. I would have also lit up the background (simply by turning on lights in the other rooms) so it wasn’t so dark. I probably would’ve gotten out an umbrella or two and the remote triggers. However, I would have also annoyed everyone and made them impatient 🙂 In the end we got a fun picture that we all like.
Circle C Ranch is a development near our house and the neighborhood is known for its great Christmas light displays. I took three of the kids out last night and drove the streets (along with lots of other cars). We stopped at two locations to grab a quick portrait. I brought red, blue, and green gels in hopes of matching the flash to the lights somewhat — I had mixed success but since our purpose was to view the lights I didn’t spend any extra time attempting to perfect the shots. I dialed down the flash way down in hopes of making the images look more like they were lit by the surrounding Christmas lights. There’s a tell-tale shadow of course but I’m not trying *hide* the fact that flash was used, just match the lighting (and its brightness) to the environment.
The kid’s favorite house is one they call “the jungle”. The displays (front and back yards) are walk-through and have all manner of decorations from a nativity scene to Elvis to the Grinch to Winnie the Pooh to…everything you can think of. For as long as I can remember, the neighbor to the jungle has put up a “Ditto” sign. Funny.
The next shots were taken in the backyard of “the jungle”. The nativity scene used bare flash handheld on a sync cord and the other shot used a red gel on the flash to match the lights. I could have used a different color — the main idea was to prevent the flash from lighting the kids with daylight (bare flash) while they were standing in the middle of the colored lights. I wish I’d had a red gel which was slightly weaker…
Finally, an out of focus shot in the back yard of “the jungle”.
Kind of a boring post today but maybe it will save someone some trouble. While snapping pictures in the hospital recently I learned a lesson about shooting in fluorescent lighting situations. I already “knew” about this but had never experienced it firsthand and didn’t think about it ahead of time. The problem boils down to the fact that certain types of fluorescent light fixtures do not produce steady light. It may generally appear to be a constant light but is actually flickering at some multiple of the electrical supply frequency (the dominant frequency depends on the ballast, type and age of the bulbs, etc.). I forgot about this and snapped a bunch of pictures without chimping and ended up with a bunch of wigged-out shots.
How does that affect your pictures? In the image above notice that my wife’s hand is not color matched to the rest of the image (I attempted to make corrections in this image — it was worse to begin with). Also check out the images below (sorry for the boring subject matter). The images were shot in sequence with the same settings (f/2.8, 1/350s) but you can see extreme variations in the frames. What happens is that if you use a shutter speed that is faster than the length of one “flicker” (one power cycle of the light) you get variations in the image depending when your shutter opens up relative to the light variation. One time the shutter opens when the light is at its brightest and all looks normal-ish (as much as it can under fluorescents). Another time the shutter opens as the light is dimming and so forth. In actuality the color temperature also varies at different points of the power cycle which causes the weird color banding you see in these shots.
Once I bumped my shutter speed down to 1/30s (and went to f/11) I consistently reproduced the image below.
After a little research I found that most newer fluorescents are designed to operate in a way which avoids most of these problems. However, if you run into issues with old lights you can work around them. Ideally, just turn off the fluorescents and use natural light and/or flash. If your camera works reasonably well at high ISO use it to your advantage and crank it up in order to turn off those lights. If turning them off is not practical you can add light with a flash to reduce the effects or use a shutter speed which is longer than the period of the light. In other words, if the light is flickering at 120 Hz (120 times a second), use a shutter speed somewhat slower than 1/120s. This makes sure the shutter is open during at least one full cycle of the light. I found that 1/60s eliminated the problem at the hospital although with some lights you might have to slow it up even further.
Hopefully that made some sense to somebody. I tried to explain what can be pretty technical, in non-technical-ish terms. Shooting flash and balancing its color with fluorescent lighting is a whole other topic too…go to to strobist.blogspot.com or your favorite internet photo resource for info on that. There’s also some interesting info on this on Nikon’s site (includes a nice visual using a gray card).
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.
We had a great bunch of little ones (three of whom are my children) gathered at a recent graduation party. I grabbed a hastily posed shot of some of them who happened to be playing near me.
I shot this using shutter priority and on-camera flash. I started out the night shooting with some off-camera lighting but it really got unwieldy due to try to take shots from all different directions (with no assistant). There was nothing but open sky above (and walls were too far behind me) so fixed bounce flashes was out of the question. I also tried a second remote flash for additional light and backlight but wasn’t satisfied with the results I was getting so I abandoned that. If I had the ability to bounce that flash I likely would’ve been happier with the second flash. Sometimes I use a 3′ sync chord and handhold my flash to get it off-camera but my cord went AWOL for a few weeks (it has since been located).
Since I was casually recording the event as a favor I wasn’t under pressure (except my own) to have “perfect” shots. This picture — and most of the rest — turned out fine IMO. Blue hour was just ending so I was able to retain some color in the sky even with the fast-ish shutter speed. A back light or rim light would have been really nice to separate the heads from the background but this was a quick candid afterall.
My camera was a Canon 5D mkii so high ISO was an available lever. I shot most of the evening using an ISO between 1600-4000. In the RAW files there is some noise — especially in the underexposed areas — but Noiseware is great at fixing that up. I can’t recommend Noiseware enough although I hear good things about programs like Noise Ninja and Topaz DeNoise too.
Friends, food, hiking in God’s beautiful creation, relaxation, card games — good times! I recently spent a 4-day weekend in Nye, MT with my wife and friends. What a great time. One afternoon we hiked up the trail along the Stillwater River toward Sioux Charley Lake and took the group portrait above. Located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, this little hike is a tiny portion of a 700-mile network of trails — amazing.
We did this hike together a couple years ago and got the standard mid-day, harsh facial shadows group photo. I didn’t plan to take many photos in the mid-day light so I decided not to lug the tripod up the trail just for the group shot. However, knowing ahead of time that the one shot we did want was a group photo from this hike, I’d brought my flash along (a friend was kind enough to keep it in his pack). Without flash, I had the choice between blowing out half of the scenery in order to properly expose the group or underexpose the group in order to properly expose the scenery. I didn’t ever consider HDR for this. Maybe I should have clicked off some brackets and just tried it, but I didn’t want any hint of that “HDR look” for our shot. I found some rocks to prop the camera on and framed the shot in such a way to maximize the amount of scenery captured while not making the group so small as to be unrecognizable.
I put the camera in manual mode and chose an exposure which didn’t blow out the sky. I may have blown out a tiny section here and there but I also wanted some detail in the portions of the mountains which were in shadow. I used the on-camera flash (Canon 580 EXii) in E-TTL mode with -1/2 stop flash compensation…seemed about right based on a test shot. Post processing was a series of curves to selectively adjust portions of the image.
I’m pretty happy with it. I wasn’t trying to make the *best* shot (wouldn’t have used on-camera flash of course) but I was trying to get a shot in which people and scenery were reasonably balanced with a minimum amount of gear and I think I accomplished that.
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.
There’s yet another reason to think twice about breaking into our home. We recently gave our daughter a Remington 870 20 gauge shotgun for her birthday. She had asked for one and how can a dad resist giving his girl a present like that? We don’t get to shoot nearly as often as we’d like but we enjoy shooting together whenever we can. You know it’s been a good day when you end up with this.
Simple photograph here: She wanted pics with the shotgun so we were just playing around to figure out what shots might be cool and ended up with this one. I used on-camera flash bounced up and behind the camera and focused on the end of the barrel using a large enough aperture to blur the background and the shooter (her request – “I don’t have makeup on, Dad”). I had to use at least a 1/125s shutter speed because she got tired trying to hold the gun still after a couple of frames. Fiddled with contrast, did some spot corrections, local exposure adjustments, etc. I would have loved a different background but there really weren’t many options in the house (we wanted an indoor shot — that whole “protection” angle).
Lest anyone freak out about gun safety I’ll point out that the gun is not pointed *at* me. Secondly, we are strict about personally checking our guns to make sure they are empty. We don’t rely on “the other guy”. I personally inspected the gun before handing it to her and getting anywhere near the end of that barrel. Finally, although it’s difficult to see in this pic, her finger is outside the trigger guard.
Last month some of my family attended the wedding of my niece Jessica in Seattle. We would love to take the whole family to events like that but it’s just not practical in our case. The weather was what one might expect in Seattle — highs around 50 and wet.
I was asked to do some photography during the times when the paid photographer wasn’t around — rehearsal, early wedding morning — and grab a few extra pics at the reception. I had just acquired a Canon 5D Mark ii the day before we traveled and I got to try out its capabilities over the weekend. It has amazing low-light performance and I took full advantage of that.
Here are some pics from the weekend (here’s a link to one I already posted of the rings resting in the flowers). Some are just OK from a technical standpoint but are personally meaningful or interesting to our family.
The shot below was meant to focus on the ring (and it does) but it isn’t the greatest shot. However, I still like the general feel of it — soft light, very shallow depth of field so I included it. It was taken in passing as I wasn’t focused on taking pictures at that point. I’d love to have that opportunity again though. I’d get the ring hand fully in the shot, shoot from slightly higher to entirely fill the background with Jessica’s to-do list on the poster board while keeping the nail polish bottle fully in the frame as in this shot.
Some pics from the rehearsal:
The wedding coordinator was concerned that the main photog wouldn’t arrive at the house early enough to get pictures of the miscellany like the rings, flower, shoes, etc. so she asked me to get some shots. Here are a few I came away with besides the ring shot:
Pre-wedding pictures in church:
After the ceremony the wedding coordinator again commandeered me for a photo assignment. The hired photog was covering the bride and groom’s trip through the receiving line from a vantage point near the church doors. I was asked to cover near the end of the line and I’m glad I did — look at how happy they are!
During the reception I didn’t capture all that many shots but here are a few. Light was challenging in the reception hall. Bouncing flash was not that great (note the black ceilings) and I didn’t have 3 remote flashes on stands like the hired photog did. I still like the shots even with some of the shadows. I take comfort in knowing that there wasn’t a whole lot to be done without setting up extra lighting myself. I just kept a diffuser on the flash and pointed the flash either up and slightly forward or up and slightly behind me. As the night was winding down, Jessica asked me to take a picture of her with the bridesmaids up near the dance floor. I like how the light ended up just fine with the exception of how everyone’s hair disappears into the background. I didn’t have a second light to overcome that. When we walked to the front and lined up everyone and their brother got cameras out and started firing. Getting all the girls to look at me rather than the other cameras was a bit like herding cats. None of the shots had everyone looking normal so I just picked the best of the bunch.
A candid of my beautiful wife. When she finds out her picture is here I’ll probably be in trouble. She never reads my posts so please — none of you go telling her. She never needs to know 🙂
The main photog had already left the reception when Jessica and Jonathan were making their exit so once again the coordinator asked me to take shots. I had the 50mm lens on and there was no time to fetch my 24-70 or really test out the flash to adjust compensation. I’d prefer a little different framing but I was zoomed out (with my feet) as far back as I could get and I wanted to catch some of the flag waving too. I got off 4 frames as they walked out and they capture the moment just fine. There was very heavy tungsten lighting in this little hallway. My flash was gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO and I could get away with cooling the color temperature more but I decided not to eliminate it completely. It’s a dilemma I often struggle with — Whether to keep some of that uncorrected color in certain shots. It can be a nice effect sometimes.
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.
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.
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.
As mentioned in a previous post my mom hosts an annual pumpkin carving and/or painting party each fall in Illinois. This year my family’s annual trek to Illinois happened to coincide with the event and my kids got to participate.
My son was particularly proud of his choice of pumpkins. His grandmother showed him the finer points of choosing the best ones, explaining which blemishes will add/detract from the final product and how important it is that it stands up straight enough for painting/displaying. One also learns that the shape (tall and thin, short and round, etc) has to be considered in light of the final piece art you want to make. Who knew there could be so much to think about with pumpkins?
The shot above shows the state of my son’s pumpkin before and after our big party. I don’t show it, but the opposite side of the pumpkin has a face carved into it. He wanted to paint *and* carve.
From a photography standpoint I’m pretty disappointed with the shot on the right — it’s a bit blurry although it displays OK at a small size. I had the camera on aperture priority mode with a flash mounted on-camera to add light to the indoor ambient. I was snapping shots here and there without paying much attention to how they were turning out except for glancing at the LCD screen to make sure the exposure was reasonable. I didn’t notice that my shutter speed was rather slow sometimes, allowing the shot to blur slightly despite the “freeze” effect of the flash. Live and learn.