Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lessons on Light: Backlit photography

In available light photography the photographer seeks to use the light around him to his or her best advantage to achieve the exact affect they are after.  Back-lighting, front-lighting, and side-lighting are the three main lighting options available.  The type of light you choose dramatically affects the over-all feel of an image.

Back-lighting involves placing the light source directly behind the subject.  In contrast, front-lit subjects are placed with their faces directly toward the light source.  When the light source lights the subject from either side, it is referred to as side-lighting.

Today I'd like to focus on back-lighting.  If you take a look at my portfolio on my website, you will notice that I tend to gravitate toward back-lit photography.  As I am learning to see light differently, this is changing.  Yet, especially this time of year, I still love to use back-lighting to take advantage of its illuminating affect on the wonderful fall colors (Yes, even in Texas we get fall color.).  

As you can see in this first image below, there's nothing quite like tree leaves seemingly on fire from the sun shining through from behind.  If your goal is to capture fall colors in all their glory, then you should purposefully seek out back-lighting for those images. It's the sun shining through the back of a leaf that helps to create the glow that helps to bring out all those wonderful tiny details and veins within each leaf.

In portrait photography, I especially love how backlighting leaves a golden halo around the subject's hair and shoulders.  The danger, however, is that you risk losing your subject's face in the shadows.  To avoid this, be sure to place your subject where there is enough ambient light to light their faces as well.  

Take a look at the image of the little boy below.  The light coming in from the window behind him is reflected off the white wall directly in front of him.  This perfectly fills in all shadows giving the appearance of a front-lit portrait.  

It always pays to take a good look at your subject's face before taking each shot.  Make sure the subject's face is well lit. Look for areas where the light will reflect back into your subject's face - using a reflector can help (although I never use one myself).  Most importantly, always take your meter reading off your subject's face to be sure it is properly exposed.

All of these images were taken using back-lit lighting.  Though it may not be the most ideal type of lighting for portrait work, I think a part of me will always love it.  

Now, quick, before all the fall color is long gone, go create your own back-lit masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Upcoming Photography Tips

I apologize for the lack of photography tips recently.  As you can tell, session sneak peaks have taken priority for the time being.  Never fear - in the upcoming month I have a few more photography lessons I want to cover.  Also coming in the next month: Our first guest blogger.  Dina Marie from Dina Marie Photography in Orange County, California will be stopping by the blog for a little Q&A.  It promises to be inspirational.

Jonathon, Flora, Jacob, and Conner

We finished up Jacob and Conner's family session yesterday evening when their daddy was able to join us after work.  Not only were we able to get some great family shots, but we got a nice one of mom and dad and the boys as well.  Here's their sneak peak.  The rest of their client gallery will be up on my site by the end of the day.

Whichever portraits they decide to go with, I think they'll look great on the walls at daddy's office and in his patient exam rooms.  Thanks again, Jonathon, for allowing me to display my work at your place of business.  It is very much appreciated!  I hope your family - and your patients - enjoy them until it's time to update them with new ones.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Jason, Olga, and baby Victoria

Jason met Olga while on a mission trip to Russia 10 years ago.  They didn't fall in love at first, but over time they developed a friendship that blossomed from there.  Theirs is such an inspiring love story.  I wanted to share it with you.   

After they married in Russia, Olga moved to the states to live near Jason's family.  They had a beautiful ceremony here in the states as well.  Baby Victoria was born several years after that after many years of waiting and prayer over her arrival.  What a blessing she is!

I chose to photograph their family in the small chapel in the Pioneer village at the Arboretum in hopes of capturing that spirit of prayer that surrounded Victoria's birth.  The setting was beautifully lit and perfectly peaceful.  I know this image will mean a lot to their families.

Victoria's adorable dress was a gift from her Grandparents.  After the more formal pictures were finished, Victoria donned her Halloween attire.  But, by then she was plum tuckered out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everyone Needs a Hand to Hold on To

Baby Victoria's sneak peak from her session is almost finished.  In the meantime, I couldn't resist posting this one.  It captured my heart!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Go Vote!

Election day is November 4th, 2008.
Just a friendly reminder....

Two Years!

My sweet little Alden turned two years old recently.  As promised, here are a couple images from our first attempt at her two year portraits.  Her "princess dress" portraits will follow soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jacob and Conner

I absolutely had a blast at the new rocket park in town the other day. Holding our session at a local park was the perfect way to take some of the pressure off of Jacob and Conner - and it gave their mommy and me time to catch up.  

I thought it would be helpful to let the boys play a bit before the session started to give them a chance to let off some energy and get comfortable with me before it was time to get down to business. Of course, while they played, I did my best to catch some candid shots as well.

As a parent I was also very comforted to see little Conner carrying around his little lovey, Happy!  (You know, Happy from the movie Happy Feet.) My children have lovies as well!  Advising your clients to bring their child's favorite lovey is a great idea!  Not only do they make wonderful memory-maker images, but they help the child to feel more at ease - which translates into happier little clients.  

I also love how mom allowed the older son to keep his shirt open.  They were dressed the same, but he was still allowed to let his personality shine through.  The result: more natural looking portraits.

Aren't these two guys so stinking handsome!  I'll post pictures from their family session in a couple days.  Then you'll see for yourself where they get their good genes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Higher ISO = Increased Grain

One advantage to increasing your ISO setting is the ability to photograph in lower light without using flash.  However, doing so will most likely result in increased graininess in your images.  Higher ISOs (especially in later model cameras) give an image a foggy, fuzzy look.   

Graininess is not all bad.  In fact, some photographers purposefully choose a higher ISO with the goal of increasing the grain to creating an old-time feel to their image.  Graininess can also give an image a romantic feel.  Remember those old Hollywood portraits?

With the newer SLR models coming out, grainy images at higher ISOs are all but a thing of the past.  In order to get that dreamy, grainy, romantic look photographers will now have to turn to editing software. Chances are, however, that most of you won't own one of those cameras any time soon, so I thought a little "visual" was in order to help you see the affect ISO has on your images. 

Below are three very similar images all shot at different ISOs.  The first image was shot at ISO 100, the second at ISO 400 and the third at ISO 1600.  You can really see the grain in that last image.  If your goal is crisp and sharp images, shoot at the lowest ISO possible.  If you like the softer look of grain in your images, shoot at higher ISOs.  Just remember to adjust your other settings accordingly.

ISO - it's really just another tool to allow your creative juices to flow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Newborn Twins and A Big Sister

On Tuesday I had the privilege of photographing Miss Aubrey and her new baby brother and sister, Parker and Piper.  Their mommy is doing such a wonderful job with all three of these little ones.  I was truly impressed!

I have to say, this week feels a little like Sesame Street with the number of the week being TWO.  Not only did I just photograph Parker and Piper on Tuesday, but I will be photographing their friends Ani and Tomas on Saturday, another set of twins.  This morning I photographed two brothers, and I'm also very excited to be photographing twin boys - Seniors in HS - in the very near future.  

But, the most exciting TWO of this week is reserved for our precious daughter who turns two on Sunday.  I can hardly believe how fast she is growing up!  I'll be sure to post her 2 year old pictures in a week or two after I post all my client sneak peaks.

For now, enjoy sweet Aubrey and Piper, their handsome little brother Parker, and their very capable and beautiful mommy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes: Keeping an eye out for visual distractions

"The first step you need to take in order to end up with a beautiful picture in your viewfinder is to be aware of the ugly things, those things that destroy so many rookie's pictures." 
by John Garret, The Keep It Simple Series Guide to Photography

Some accuse me of being too detail-oriented.  It isn't uncommon for me to notice a paper clip on the floor behind a subject I am photographing. Quite often my subject's parents are enlisted to pick up a large stick off the ground or move some other distracting item out of the image I'm framing.  With practice, I've learned to not just see the beautiful little girl who is my subject, but to look for those things that might distract from her beauty and that of the final image.  

After many rookie mistakes I've learned to look at every little detail that will end up in the image I'm about to capture.  This is a crucial aspect of framing your image.  After all, who wants a portrait of a bride and groom with the keyboard player setting up his equipment in the background?  Sure, the musician could be photoshopped out later, but isn't it easier to ask him to wait a couple minutes until you get the shot you need?  Time is money as they say, so personally I'd rather get it right the first time.  And, since I charge for retouches, I'm sure my clients appreciate my keen eye as well.

Take a look at the following images.  Each contains a distracting element that takes away from the success of the image.

In this first image there are actually two problems.  First, this fine, young, athletic dude, has a lamp-post growing out of his head.  Not quite the look I was after.  Second, take a look at the upper third of this image.  It is predominantly white.  They eye is attracted to this brighter, white space - which takes attention away from the subject.  Both could have been avoided by framing the shot differently.

This image also has two problems.  The first being the red color-cast her dance hat and costume casts on her skin.  Unfortunately, this is difficult to photoshop out.  The second problem is the boulder in the background that seems to cut her head in half visually.  Both are major distractions that take away from the success of the image.

The mistake in this image is even more obvious than the lamp post growing out of the skater's head.  The fence wires block the view of the goat's eyes.  Darn that goat!  He moved right at the wrong time.  This could have been a dynamic image, but it suffers terribly due to the distraction the fence provides.  

Some distractions, like the fence with the goat, are really hard to avoid. Even the best of photographers can't anticipate every single move an animal is going to make. Others like the boulder and the lamp post are more easily avoided with practice.  So, how do you develop an eye for these tiny little details that can end up ruining your shot?  My professor, Terry Weir, gave us the perfect exercise which really drove the point home.  Take a look at the image below.

Our assignment was to cut a hole the size of our view finder into a piece of black card stock.  We were to look through this hole before we framed our pictures.  The hole helped us see the world through our camera's view-finder's perspective - which helped us learn how to see the way our camera sees.  By paying attention to everything within that view, we learned how to pick up on all the little details that would be included when framing our image.

Try it for yourself: 
Cut a 1" by 1" hole in a piece of black card-stock (so it isn't flimsy).  Do not take an image before checking the scene through your mock view-finder first.  Pay attention to every detail that you see.  Is there a person walking in the distance behind your subject?  Is there a fuzzy on your client's sweater?  Is there a sock on the floor in the distance?  Is there a tree growing out of your client's head?  Is there an unusually dark or bright spot in your frame that might compete with your subject for the viewer's attention?  

Train your eye to look for these things.  It will take your photography from rookie to fabulous in no time flat.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Splish Splash

During a recent session with baby Kaci, I was thrilled to be present for her first bath.  Little Kaci came about three weeks early.  We had planned that I would be on hand to take pictures in the hospital after she was born, but since I was out of town I sadly missed out on that event.  Mom and Dad graciously agreed to leave her hospital bands on until I could get there to take pictures at home, so we still got a few great keepsake shots.

Watching Kaci's parents give her a bath brought back fond memories of my son's first bath.  We have it on video.  It really is quite hilarious. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I had printed out a step-by-step guide from Martha Stewart's website on how to give your newborn a bath. Surely, you can imagine how the rest of that story played out.

All that to say, I remember how unprepared and ill-equipped my husband and I felt caring for our new precious little one.  Every touch was gentle and tender.  If you look closely, you will see this same new mommy and new daddy tenderness in the images below.  I love how baby Kaci is holding on to her mommy's hand...precious! And don't you just love the little legs sticking out of that enormous baby tub? Priceless.

One benefit to giving Kaci her bath at the kitchen sink was the gorgeous natural light pouring in from the kitchen window.  It was actually the best light in the whole house.  What a great start to her session - and she was squeaky clean to boot!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Web: Protecting Your Images Online and A Few Great Sources for Creative Inspiration

Posting pictures on-line poses certain risks to anyone, not just a photographer.  How do you know someone isn't going to down-load your image, take a screen shot, steal, or tamper with one of your images? Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.

I once had a friend tell me that her client had taken screen shots of their session pictures off their client gallery without ever ordering a single print.  She discovered this by visiting the client's personal blog one day and noticing her picture on their blog.  Is there anything we can do as photographers to protect ourselves from the same thing happening to us?

Sure, you can do all sorts of things to protect yourself from these risks, but the harsh reality is that nothing is safe online.

Today was proof positive.  This morning I received a message on Facebook from a friend of mine from one of my past photography classes.  She wrote to warn me that she was able to down-load my images and even read my file names.  I dropped everything and quickly went through every single post, removed all the images, renamed the files, then reloaded them back on to each post - making sure not to give any detailed information about the people appearing in my blog.  

It was time-consuming, but it was the wake-up call I needed.  I thought I was safe.  After all, I had added my watermark and resized all my images.  But, I hadn't thought about the file names.  Who knew?  My husband, a software engineering genius, reiterated to me that there is no possible way to keep people from downloading your work.  Anything can be hacked.  Sure, some steps can be taken to make it harder, but it is always possible.  

With that in mind, especially since several of you reading my blog are just now starting your own photography businesses, I thought it would be helpful to give a few pointers toward safeguarding the images you put on the web.  Just keep in mind that these are only safeguards.  Your files may still be downloaded.  The key is to make your files as tamper proof as possible.  Below are some tips:

1. Resize all images for the web to the lowest resolution possible where they still look good.
2. Imprint your watermark on every image.
3. Be sure your file names are generic.  They should not include the client's name or other detailed information.
4. Be sure your clients sign a model release form.  You should communicate with them that you retain the copyright to all images taken during their session - even if a print is ordered.
5. If you have a website, it should contain this year's copyright line with your business name. Mine says "All images copyright Tammy Labuda Photography 2008."  
Each year you will need to change the date to the current year.
6. If you have a website, choose a FLASH site.
7. Register your images with Digimarc.
8. Check out this site for additional tips.

Sure there are risks with having your work online.  But the benefits far outweigh the risks.  One of the greatest benefits to having your work online is your ability to share your work with your clients, mentors, and peers.  Today alone the web made it possible for Anjula to keep an eye out for me and for Colleen to equip me by providing the link found in tip #8.  Thank you ladies!  You're the best!

The web is also a fantastic place to go to glean inspiration from others in the field and to research the latest techniques and trends.  Speaking of inspiration, there are several photographers who have personally taken the time to share their wisdom, experience, tips, and encouragement with me.  Whether it be answering each and every email question I send their way or spending hours of their time with me on the phone, their wisdom and advice has made me a better photographer, professional, and person.  More importantly, their work inspires me to reach higher ground with my own photography career.  See for yourself!

Thanks to the web, I visit their sites regularly.  In the future I would like to highlight a few of these individuals.  Who knows?  You may even see an interview or a guest blog from one of them from time to time. Hopefully their work will inspire you as it does me.

There are many other photographer and creative friends (newbies like me) who have inspired me and encouraged me this past year.  Colleen, Anjula, Kara, Stephanie M, Katherine, Margaret, Jennie - just to name a few - thank you for your friendship, honesty, integrity, humility, and especially your creativity!  

I end with this: Terry Weir once encouraged our class to spend our time looking only at the work of photographers and other creative professionals who have surpassed our level of technical and creative work.  Looking at sites whose work is not as good as ours, he argued, will never inspire us to grow.  I ask you this question:  Who inspires you to grow!

Terry, you are one wise man.  I'm so very thankful for you!  

Monday, October 6, 2008

Great Family Pictures

What makes for a great family portrait?  Are there tips to remember when posing and positioning the crew?  Sure, there are.  But, before any of the posing comes into play, one of the first things I do with a family is sit down with them and remind everyone to express their affection to one another during their session.  

In every pose there ought to be genuine physical contact between all the members of the family.  They should lean into each other, put their arms around each other, and touch each other.  They should appear relaxed and unposed.  

One way I like to pose a family is to focus on the siblings while keeping the parents an unspoken element within the frame.  In the last image below, you will see that I included just the arms and upper torso of the mom and dad using them to frame the two sisters.  This says "parents" and "family" without showing the whole picture.  This is just one way to be creative in your posing.  Even when being creative, it is most important to keep it real and affectionate.

My session on Saturday was a prime example of a successful family session.  Just look at how cozy these four are with one another.  You can tell just by looking at them how much they love and care for each other.

Of course it doesn't hurt that this family is so gorgeous either!  As a photographer, when a family pulls up to a session looking like this, you just know it's going to be a GREAT day! 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Photography Tip #6: ISO

The ISO setting on your camera is a measure of how sensitive your camera sensor is to light.  In the days of film (Okay, I know. I know. Film is still very much around.) you would see the ISO number indicated on a roll of film listed as the film speed.  With film you were stuck with that ISO setting until you finished the roll of film.  On your digital cameras today you scan switch ISO settings with each image you take. This gives you great creative freedom.  You can choose from ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and even higher within any given shoot.  But what do these numbers mean?

It's actually very simple. A low ISO (100) is not very sensitive to light.  A high ISO (1600), on the other hand, will be very sensitive to light, so you can take pictures without flash in much dimmer settings than you could at the lower ISOs.  

To make this crystal clear, it's time for yet another analogy from Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure. (You really should run out NOW and get a copy for yourself.  It's super user-friendly.  Besides, I'm thinking he should probably give me some kind of kick-back for how often I refer his book, right?)  Anyway, Bryan Peterson uses the analogy of worker bees to explain how ISO settings affect your images.  

Imagine you have 100 worker bees on hand to gather the light in an image and deliver it to your camera's sensor.  Those would be some speedy worker bees, right?  Well, now imagine you have 200 worker bees to gather the same amount of light.  It would take those bees half as long to gather the needed light as the 100 bees took.  400 bees would gather the light 4 times as fast.  800 bees would gather the light 8 times as fast.  You get the picture.  So, each time you double your ISO setting you can halve the shutter speed.  So, you will be able to use a faster shutter speed in low light.  This is probably the most important aspect of ISO.

How does this affect your photography?  Let's say your aperture is set as low as your lens will allow at f/1.4.  Unfortunately, you forgot your tripod at home, so you are limited at how low you can set the shutter speed (since you will be hand-holding the camera).  You won't be able to set the shutter speed as low as your camera's light meter suggests in order to get a proper exposure when you are in a dimly lit room.  

How can you get more light onto the sensor so that you can shoot at a higher shutter speed and forego the tripod? Simply increase your ISO settings on your camera.  If it is set at ISO 100, try ISO 200 first.  If you still need a faster shutter speed, try ISO 400.  Continue adjusting the ISO settings until you reach a fast enough shutter speed to shoot without a tripod.  It goes without saying that each time you adjust your ISO settings you will also have to adjust your shutter speed until your camera's light meter indicates a proper exposure.

(Not sure what a light meter is?  Grab the manual that came with your camera and figure this out fast!  Understanding your light meter is crucial to learning how to shoot manually.)

You should also know that colors will be most saturated and images will be sharpest at the lower ISO settings.  In most cameras you will also see increased "noise" or graininess in images where higher ISO settings are used.  For this reason, since I shoot using available light, I always try to shoot in conditions that allow for an ISO setting of 100.

How do you know what the slowest shutter speed is that you can shoot your particular lens at without having to use a tripod?  That's pretty simple as well.  Generally speaking (unless you have a VERY steady hand) your shutter speed should not fall below the lowest mm reading on your lens.  For example, if I am shooting with my 50 mm lens, I should try not to shoot without a tripod if the shutter speed is lower than 1/60th of a second.  Shutter speeds faster than that should result in images that are pretty clear when hand-held.  If you are using a 24-70 mm lens, you should not shoot slower than 1/25th of a second without a tripod.  If you are using an 85 mm lens, your lowest shutter speed should be 1/100th of a second.  Anything slower than that requires a tripod.

So far we have learned about Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO settings. Together these three make up what Bryan Peterson (there's that name again) refers to as The Photographic Triangle.  Simply put, a correct exposure is a simple combination of these three factors.  

But what is a correct exposure?  That all depends on the desired result. Do you want to freeze the action, then place priority on a fast shutter speed and adjust your ISO and aperture settings until your camera's light meter indicates a correct exposure.  Do you want to record the tail lights on passing cars as a blurry streak of red and yellow? Then, place priority on a slow shutter speed.  Do you want to isolate one candle on top of a birthday cake?  Then, place priority on a large aperture (small f-stop) adjusting your shutter speed and ISO settings afterward to indicate a correct exposure. 

Any number of combinations of ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture can result in a correct exposure.  Only one of those (usually about six or seven different options) combinations is what Bryan Peterson refers to as The Creatively Correct Exposure.  And that, my friends, depends upon you - the creative force behind the lens.

Here are some general guidelines about which ISO setting to use:

Outdoors in brightly lit sunlight - ISO 100
Outdoors but in overcast light - ISO 100 or ISO 200
Shooting indoors without flash - ISO 100 if possible, use higher ISOs when needed

One last note:  When adjusting your ISO settings, always remember to change it back to ISO 100 at the end of the shoot - unless, of course, you are purposefully trying to increase the grain in your image for artistic affect.  Just remember, the preferred ISO for highest sharpness, color saturation, and image clarity is ISO 100.  That should be the starting point for every shoot.