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.
I love shooting portraits but I’m not that great at it yet. There’s really so much to learn about composition, posing, lighting, all the hair and makeup stuff, etc. For the second year in a row I shot family and individual portraits for some friends’ and was able to practice what I’ve learned so far. The deal is that they get free pictures and I get freedom to practice, experiment, and try their general patience.
Overall, I was pleased. After an initial review of the images I came away with quite a list of things to improve on — hand and head positions, tweaks in exposure, unwanted things in the background, strobe positioning for the shots where I needed it, etc., etc.. However, this year’s shots are light years better than the previous year (in my opinion anyway) and I see marked improvement.
I sat with the mom of the family to pick out the “to be processed” images out of the 380 I kept from the shoot (that was after rejecting the obvious losers). Lightroom is an awesome tool for this. We categorized into “keepers” (will get the basic Lightroom edit mostly using the “Sync” panel) and “finals” (which get a full edit…which in some cases is simply Lightroom but may include Photoshop as well). If I were shooting for a client I would have reduced the starting point to far fewer than 380 images (we shot 14 combinations of groups and individuals) but we were doing these as a favor for each other so I gave her a lot of say in what images got the full treatment.
After shooting the family group portrait I shot individuals of the little one pictured above. The idea was to get her pictures done before shooting her (many) siblings. As you can see, it’s not hard to come up with great images with a face like that. She even followed directions when we had her purposely play with her hair — very cute. The hair was a bit of a challenge though. It is so light and wispy that we could not keep it in place even in a very light breeze. It’s still a cute portrait and when she starts modeling for clients we’ll get the hair and makeup people out to make sure her hair stays in place. Photoshop could be used to fix some of it up for sure.
Processing for the shot above was mostly in Lightroom (reduced clarity for the skin), brightened the eyes, slight curves adjustment, vignette. I did pull this image into Photoshop to mask in sharpening around the eyes and bump the iris saturation up to +10 or so. I also played around with all sorts of things like high-key effects, etc. — they’re all awesome with a subject like that.
The shot below was processed solely in Lightroom. Reduced clarity in the skin, sharpening around the eyes, curves, and vignette.
As I progress in the development of my photography skills I’ve found myself becoming more of a perfectionist. Now, that doesn’t mean that I never keep or show something that I is imperfect — I’d have no images left if I were so picky. What it does mean is that I take more care when framing and setting up a shot, more care with the light, and more care in post-processing. I also find myself asking people, “Don’t tell anyone I took that picture” because I know I could’ve done better on many shots.
My children are painfully aware of this because I’m never happy with the family shots we take and often want to spend a bunch of time getting things “right”. For example, even when the light is reasonable, I want to get the strobe out just in case I need to tweak the shot and add some fill…and so it goes.
So, this past Sunday my girls wanted some pictures taken with a friend who was visiting for the week. They were in their Sunday best and thought it would be a good opportunity to get some pictures before they changed clothes. They were very clear that they didn’t want a “photoshoot” and frankly would have been content to use the point-and-shoot to snap some quickies.
In the end we compromised. I didn’t get the strobe and umbrella out but I did get them to allow some test shots and tweaks before taking the final shots. I wanted to explore backgrounds around the yard but I let them pick the spot as long as they weren’t in the sun. They got to pose themselves and I just tweaked them here and there.
Above is one of the resulting images. If I were constrained to that background but had my way otherwise, I would have stopped down a hair to darken the background in-camera. Then I would have added just enough strobe and/or reflectors to bring the exposure of the faces back to normal and provide some fill/catchlights in the eyes. In reality though, this image already exceeded the expectations of the girls and that’s what really counts. I don’t even mind telling people that I took these pictures.
I had the privilege — and challenge — of taking some photos for my son and his friends this past weekend. I’ll let them tell they’re own story (link at the end of the post) but the short version is that they are going “on tour” for a month to sing as a quartet, do various service projects, and promote the International ALERT Academy (where they have received various types of emergency response training — paramedic and other misc certifications in my son’s case).
Our only options for shooting were a short bit early Sunday morning and then in the afternoon from about 1-3pm. We did what we could in the morning and left the rest for later. The afternoon sun was as intense as it ever gets in Texas — which makes for lousy natural light in many locations. If I was shooting only one person, had a set of great lights and diffusers, etc. I would have felt better about all this. However, I worked on making do with my single speedlight and whatever shade we could find.
The guys wanted to do some shots on the railroad tracks — no shade there. One of the favorite spots required them to be looking toward the sun, which was *mostly* overhead but off its peak just enough to create extremely harsh shadows when they faced that direction. Nonetheless, we took a bunch of shots and attempted to overcome the sun on five guys with a single speedlight…not quite successful. I told them not to tell anyone I took those pictures 🙂
In the shot with the locomotive you can see how turning them out of the sun (and using the single speedlight) doesn’t turn out too bad. While shooting the previous into-the-sun images I broke my sync cord and could no longer use my Elinchrom skyports to control the flash. So for this shot I used a 3′-ish cord attached to my hot shoe and use E-TTL with -2/3 flash exp compensation if I remember correctly. I held the flash above-camera-left as high as I could reach (I was slightly crouched to take the shot). It turned out OK — and the guys seemed happy with this one.
Of course we did the obligatory look-cool-standing-against-some-grungy-wall-album-cover-type shots. We found a random wall with just enough shade to make it work. The sidewalk in front of the wall had a slight slope which made things a bit tricky. If I lined up the frame with the brick, I ended up with a bit of grass where the sidewalk was higher…stuff like that. I think I should have worked my angles more and come up with something better. However, we had already spent a lot of time doing individual shots and various group poses and with it being nearly 100 degrees, all of us were ready to get on with it and finish up.
I had fun taking the photos. I learned a lot. I learned most of all that I have a lot left to learn. It was also fun for the guys (who are not nearly as serious as some of their pictures would imply) to be able to goof around while posing. Most importantly, they got some shots they were happy with.
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