Sunday, October 31, 2010

Portrait Special Effects

You may begin to recognize the individuals in these photos.  They are my wife and son. Why so many photos of them you ask?  Well, they are cheap models...  Not to mention I take the opportunity to show my boy off as often as possible.

On with the show.  As a nature and wildlife photographer I typically did not work with any types of special effects.  Now that I have started working with portraits I am coming to realize that these special effects have their place.  Check out the differences between these before and after pictures and judge for yourself which are best.  Like all things in photography the term "best" is subjective.  Much of this depends on what the clients really want from their photography session.  So, what do you think about adding some special effects or "tweaks" to portraits... 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lighting Part 3 of 3

Make sure to check out Lighting Part 1 of 3 and Lighting Part 2 of 3 before reading this one.

This post, as promised, will be about the equipment you need to do basic lighting on-location. I thought I would take this time to remind you that I am a Nikon shooter though what I have to say can apply to any of the major brands out there.

1. You need a camera…. Sounds like a duh but inevitably someone will email me saying that I failed to mention this most important part.

2. Strobes/Speedlights – you need an artificial light source to illuminate your subjects. There are several different types of lights out there but for on location shooting I would recommend Speedlights like the Nikon SB-900 or the Canon 580EX II. I would say you need a minimum of two. One to act as a commander unit on your camera (provided the camera does not already do this) and one to be the actual source of light. Several of Nikon’s cameras have this built in with their pop up flash (D200, D300, D300s, D90, D7000, D700, D3, D3x, D3s…and there may be more)

  • a. You can also go the real studio strobes but they are not very portable and can be very expensive. If you go to a location without AC power you would need a larger battery source to plug them into. Alien Bees ( has some great options if you decide that is the route you want to go.
3. Light modifiers – You will need something to diffuse the light coming from the strobe. This can range anywhere form a bed sheet to a softbox… cheap to expensive. One of the best solutions starting out is the umbrella (also called a light grenade). You can get these at your local camera store or online for under 20 bucks. Lightboxes on the other hand are typically more expensive and harder to put up but they allow you more control over the light’s direction. I would encourage you to do more research here prior to buying. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail or call me and we can discuss it in further detail. One thing you need for sure is a reflector. Several companies make these as 5 in 1… enabling you to use it for multiple purposes. It can act as a 2nd light or a shoot through diffuser. The multiple covers allow for different types (colors) of reflections.

4. Stands - These are simple metal stands that hold your lights. They also range from the very inexpensive to the very expensive and come in various sizes etc. I would venture to say that the decent ones start around the 30.00 mark. If you are not using studio sized strobes then you may not need the sturdiest but remember, you will likely have an umbrella attached and if you’re out side…. Well, you might be chasing your lighting equipment should a good gust of wind come up. Yep, I have been there.

Well, that covers basic lighting. In future posts I will cover more of the technical aspects of exposing images using artificial lights. That will likely require multiple posts as well. Thanks for reading and again contact me if you have any questions. I may answer it with a blog post. You just never know.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We Have Gone International !

Google Blogger recently added statistics for the blog authors. I decided to give it a look just to see how many people were coming to the blog. I was amazed to find how many times the site has been viewed and stunned that people from several countries taken a look.

First I would like to thank all the readers for taking the time to read the blog and I would like to recognize all the international readers as well. Welcome all!  Please, take the time to leave a comment deatailing where you are from (city, state, country). I can't wait so see the comments!

This blog also imports directly to Facebook so if you are reading this from there come to and leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Product Review "Lightroom 3"

Back when I first started scanning in slide film into the computer workflow has been a challenge.  Before the advent of quality digital cameras I would spend hours in Photoshop working on a single image just trying to remove the dust spots.  Yes, it was a painful thing to do.  After getting my first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) not a lot changed.  I would spend a little less time working on the images because there were no dust spot but still working in Photoshop alone took some time and took a good bit of program knowledge.  Photoshop is still that way today though it is MUCH more powerful than when I started.  Then Lightroom came along.  I first learned about Lightroom 2 while attending a John Shaw Seminar and decided to give it a try.  Wow, what a difference.  I could make adjustments, create virtual copies of my images, print, create slide shows, create presets, export in various image formats, keyword, catalog and search for the images.  It was a game changer for me.  What used to take me 45min in Photoshop now took me about 45 seconds.  Sure, some of the more powerful features of Photoshop kept me returning now and again.  Specifically, it was the need for noise reduction and masking.

Now, we have Lightroom 3 and it is an incredible program.  With the addition of amazing noise reduction I find myself in Photoshop far less than before.  On average I do 95% (give or take) of my image editing in Lightroom 3.  This program is not cheap with a price tag of 299.99 but it is worth every penny and if you happen to be going to school or are a teacher you can pick this up for $99.99 with the educational discount.  

If there is one thing I can recommend above all others to improve your digital workflow it is Lightroom 3.  If you are not using this program you are missing out on a lot of power and a lot of time saved.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting Good Photos in Bad Spots

No, this is not supposed to be a good photo...  That's the point!

Sometimes the best photos are the ones you take in poor situations. While setting around the house I got the idea to prove that in bad locations where you think 'this is impossible to work with', that you can come away with great photos. Granted I used my family as test subjects but understand the entire set up and photos took about 5 min. No kidding.

So, what do we have to work with?
The first and obvious advantage to this location is the big beautiful light source coming through the window. The window and shade add fantastic diffusion and intensity. Second, there is a couch in front of the window where I can pose the subjects... Well, that is about all we have. Good light and a great place to set people...who could ask for anything more. Remember in these situations that close and tight shots are your friends.  Oh, and pardon the mess our two year old was very active just prior to these photos.  Take a look at the following series of photographs and tell me if it really looks like I used this location.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lighting Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t already, check out Lighting Part 1 to help you get an understanding of Part 2.

The first thing we talked about to improve your lighting was to get the flash off the camera. Still, with the bare flash you may be noticing that the harsh blown out effect or extreme shadows still remain. How do you fix this? Have to make the light source bigger and softer. You do this with Diffusion.

What is diffusion? Diffusion is the scattering of light in many directions as the result of reflection from an uneven surface or passage though a translucent material. What this equates to is you must either put something in front of the flash in order to enlarge and soften the light or reflect it off a nearby wall or other object. It is important to note that light will take on the color of whatever it bounces off of or passes through. If you use a green wall to bounce your flash then you will have green light on your subject. Unless your subject is the Incredible Hulk this might not be a good idea. Moral of the story: Be careful what you use to reflect your flash. Most of the time however, walls and/or ceilings are white. Lucky us!! Remember, the larger and closer the light source the more diffusion/softness you get (another reason large white walls work great)

My personal preference is to have the light pass through a diffuser such as a translucent umbrella or softbox. Hand held, fold out reflectors/diffusers work great for this too but require either an assistant or additional stands and arms. If you do not have an off camera flash and you find yourself out in the middle of the day grab one of the hand held reflectors/diffusers. Try to position it between the sun and your subject and you will get beautiful results. This is because you are taking the small, powerful and far away source of light (the sun) and turning it into a large, close and diffuse light source.

It is the light that we use to create our images and tell our stories. I encourage you to learn all you can about how lighting works, both natural and artificial. You will be come a better photographer as you learn to see the light and understand its effects.

Stay tuned for Lighting Part 3 as we discuss artificial lighting options such as strobes, reflectors, lightstands, softboxes, umbrellas and much more.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bird by Bird


There is an old story about a kid who was working on a science project. The project was to create all these information cards about different birds. He began by putting the name of each bird on a card and then was going to go back and fill in all the information. The boy was sitting around the kitchen table with all these cards lying around to be filled out. At that point he made the comment “how in the world am I going to get all these cards filled out”? The father looked down at his son and said “just take it bird by bird”.

If you are just getting into photography you can feel a lot like that little boy in the story. There is so much to learn about composition, gear, art, light (natural and artificial), printing, editing and many other aspects. This can seem overwhelming. My recommendation is to pick one subject at a time and focus on just that one until you get a good grip. For example: I struggled with “masking” in Photoshop for a long time until I sat down and just focused on that one aspect over and over. Once I understood it I moved on to another difficult issue.

Since pixels are free grab your camera and head out to work on panning, lighting or composition. So what if you don’t return with award winning photographs (that is the beauty of the delete button)… You will have gained invaluable knowledge so that when a scene does present itself you can be right there on top of it without having to stumble over the technical details.

So, sling your camera around your neck and take it bird by bird.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Golden Hour

The magical "Golden Hour" of light... This is the all around best time to photograph outdoors. It is also a great time to do some portraits using the natural light coming through a window. Have you ever noticed how the photographs you take during the middle of a bright sunny day typically have either the highlights blown out or the shadowed areas are so dark that they lose all detail? You see this most often in photos taken at family gatherings when “Aunt Edna” just has to have a photograph of the entire family. The pictures are usually accompanied by squinting eyes and frowns as the sun is blaring in their faces. This happens because taking photos in the middle of a cloudless day is just a bad idea (most of the time). Why does it happen you might ask? I mean you remember the scene as beautiful with a ton of color right? It is because your eyes are much more effective than the digital sensor. The human eye can see 11 or 12 stops of light where as the digital sensor can only record 5 or 6. So, you must learn to see how the camera sees in order to become an effective photographer. HDR photography can help some with this to an extent. Take a look at my HDR blog post from a few months back for more details.

So, what is this “Golden Hour” everyone talks about and why is it different from shooting in the middle of the day? The Golden Hour happens twice daily and is about 20min before sunrise to 40min after sunrise and 40min before sunset to 20min after sunset. Why is it different than shooting during the middle of the day? The sun is large compared to the earth it is millions of miles away. This makes it a small but powerful light source. These types of light sources cause increased contrast, very harsh shadows and the washing out of color. During the Golden Hour the light from the sun travels through much more of the earth’s atmosphere causing the light to diffuse (or soften). This lowers the dynamic range (or stops of light) giving the digital sensor the ability to capture more tonal information. It is during these times that photographs often turn out more like you remember. Additionally, this type of light is much more flattering on your portrait subjects.

Take a look at these images shot just an hour apart.  Notice how the one later in the day (2nd photo) seems to have washed out colors, harsh shadows and even areas where the highlights are blown out.  In the end you must learn to see how the camera sees in order to create the photograph you have envisioned.