FotoU: Understanding Outdoor Lighting

It’s a beautiful day, your kids are outside playing, and you are ready to snap some shots with your camera.  You fire off a few and get something that looks like this…


The subject is properly exposed but the background is completely white.

Your second attempt looks more like this…


The background is properly exposed and the subject is black.

For some reason, you cannot get your child AND your background to both have the right exposure.  Why?  Well…cameras can do some pretty cool things, but when it comes to balancing exposure between the subject and the background there are certain things that you must do in order to achieve that perfect balance.  Your camera does not have enough dynamic range for a good exposure when there is a large light difference between the subject and the background.  So…here are some helpful tips for solving the challenge of balancing exposure!

One way is to match your foreground and background lighting.  What I mean by this is if your subject is standing in the shade, make sure the background is also in the shade.  Or, if they are standing in full sunlight, make sure the background is also in the sunlight.  This will give you an even balance of light so there are no areas that are too dark or light.

Another option is to use a reflector to direct the light from the sun onto the subject.  As shown below, the photographer used a reflector to bounce light onto the face of the girl so that she was as bright as the background.

You can also try using a fill flash to balance your exposure.  (BTW, I HATE using a fill flash and only use it as a last resort because it makes the image look flat!)  Here is a shot without a fill flash.  As you can see the background has good exposure, however the subjects are dark.

Here is a shot using a fill flash; the background and the subjects are both evenly exposed.  (Have I mentioned that I hate using a fill-flash??)

The hard part about using available light is creating a correct ‘ratio’ of light on the subject.  A ratio is when one side of the face is lighter than the other.  When you create a ratio, you add dimension to the face and the person looks better!  Creating a ratio is tricky outdoors because light is bouncing everywhere.  The key is to make the light ‘directional.’  In other words, the light is coming from a single direction.  When indoors, this is easy to do by simply placing the person next to a window – as shown below on the left.  When outdoors, there are three important principles:

1.  Place the subject next to a ‘negative space.’  Negative space can be a wall, bushes, fence, etc – anything that will absorb light.  This will ensure that one side of the subject’s face is darker.

2.  On the other side, be sure that the subject can see open sky.  I’m not saying that sunlight should be hitting them on one side, I’m just saying that they should be able to see the sky on one side (away from the negative space).  This will ensure that one side of the subject’s face will be brighter.

3.  If possible, have something over the subject – tree limbs, a balcony, roof, etc.  This is important so that you don’t have open sky ABOVE the subject.  The problem with open sky above is that it will create shadows around the subjects eyes – making their eyes look sunken in.  In fact, we made a mistake with the picture of the girl below – there is open sky above her which is making her eyes look dark.

My preference is to always photograph portraits in the shade.  I feel like direct sunlight is too harsh.

I hope this article helps each of you take better portraits outdoors using available light.  Just realize that available light can be manipulated to create the effect you’re wanting.  Good luck and have fun!

FotoFriday: It’s the Child

Before I photograph a session, I like to go through the notes about the up-coming appointment so I know what to expect- “get my head in the game” so to speak.  One morning, I knew I was going to take the next session, so I looked over the schedule to see what kind of shoot it would be.  The note read, “Special needs child. Wants some pictures of child with parents and lots of individual pictures of the child.” I let out an audible sigh… of relief! I knew this session would be one of the better ones I photographed that day. While other studios shy away from the opportunity to work with children that reportedly have special needs, we welcome the chance with open arms.

“What if they’re difficult to work with?” some people question. I used to teach language arts to junior high aged kids.  Believe me when I say, that one “difficult” child is far easier than ten insecure teenagers.

“What if the child doesn’t look good in the picture?” others ask.  While I do worry about that with every single adult I take a picture of, I don’t worry about that for a special needs child.  For adults I have to hide this, slim down that, eliminate this, enhance that.  Not with a child (special needs or not).  For a child, I simply need to create a situation that allows what makes him or her beautiful to come out and be ready to snap the picture the moment the child shines.  After all, it’s not the photographer that makes the photo beautiful – It’s the child.

FotoFly was lucky enough to be a part of a special moment where, for the first time, a mother had a professional picture of her three sons taken. Her middle son (seated) has special needs that, prior to coming to FotoFly, had prevented this wonderful moment in the past.

If your child has special needs, and you would love to have his or her picture  professionally taken, please do not hesitate to bring your child to FotoFly. Our studio is well equipped to accommodate every child, and I- along with any other FotoFly photographer- would be thrilled at the opportunity to photograph your child.

FotoU: Understanding Shutter Speed

There are a lot of neat effects you can do in photoshop to change the appearance of your images, but did you know there are settings on your camera that can alter the way your subject looks without ever putting it into an editing program? What if you want to stop a runner in their tracks, or better yet, show how much faster they are moving then everyone else? All you have to understand is your shutter speed.

Shutter speed is how quickly the shutter opens and closes on your camera. To better understand what the numbers mean just remember, the higher the number the faster your shutter speed, the lower the number the slower your shutter speed.

This affects two very important aspects in your images, first is the amount of light that is being allowed into the camera. These images were all taken with the same camera settings, the only thing that changed was the shutter speed. We needed to get more light into the camera in order to make the exposure correct, so by lowering our shutter speed more light was let into the camera.

The second thing affected is how much movement is either stopped or shown in your image. For example, if you would like to capture a bird landing on the water you could use a higher shutter speed which would “freeze” the bird in place.

A good rule to remember if you are trying to stop action, whether that is at a soccer game or you just have a very busy kiddo that will not sit still. You need to have your shutter speed set at 1/500 or HIGHER, otherwise you will most likely see some blur in your images from where movement was occurring. If you have lots of daylight to work with 1/1000 is a good number to stay at (especially for sporting events.)

If you would like to make the image a little more dramatic, you could show the bird’s wings were actually moving as it landed. You would do this by lowering your shutter speed.

For those that don’t know, Eric is a pretty awesome photographer and has taken some pretty stellar pictures. While at a restaurant he noticed this waiter that was quickly moving about. Instead of just freezing the action, he wanted to show that this waiter was really moving from table to table. So he slowed his shutter speed which gave the appearance of movement and made the image much more interesting. In order to achieve this look Eric focused on the waiter and moved or “panned” his lens with the waiter. This gives the blurry background and keeps the man in focus.

One last thing to remember, there are limits to how slow you can actually handhold the camera without having unintentional movement show in your images from you breathing, or your hands shaking. Generally the rule of thumb is based on how long your lens is. If you have an 80mm lens a shutter speed lower then 1/80 has a good chance of showing your movement.

FotoFriday: Fashion on the Fly

All of us know that photography takes many shapes and forms, one of which is high-fashion. Typically these are artistic pictures that revolve around Vintage, Glamour, Couture, Urban and other fresh styles. At times we have the opportunity to document a little fashion at FotoFly.

Jessica, a bride to be, arrived at our studio in a gorgeous, designer wedding dress. The shoot started off with some classic posing and then took a turn to the fashion side. Her style and desire to have a more couture look was right up my alley. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do what I love…high-fashion.

The very next day Jessica and her husband-to-be, came in to have engagement pictures taken. The two of them pulled off the urban look so well we decided to take an edgier approach. He looked like a Calvin Klein Model and she could be someone out of the next Urban Outfitters Catalog. The poses started coming and the lights flashing and in the end there were some great shots.

To round out this week of fun, fresh fashion we had two senior girls come in to have pictures taken for ‘the most important year of their lives’ (to them at least). We succeeded in capturing the unique personality and beauty of each in full throttle fashion.

These Fashion shoots are off the hook. All of these pictures could be found in a magazine, so watch out, FotoFly might start its own. I personally like ‘FlyFashion’ for the title. What do you think?

Come in and be our next High Fashion Model!

Here’s a little taste of the action. I’m trying to get a natural Glamour jump
from an awesome model. :) Be warned it might make you laugh.

- Click Here -

FotoU: Understanding ISO

ISO is one of those lesser-known yet very important concepts that every photographer should understand.  If you understand ISO, you will be able to capture images that are impossible for a wanna-be photographer!  Which, if you’re like me, it’s not how much you know that’s important – it’s how much more you know than everyone else that matters.

Let’s first define the ISO number.  Simply speaking, the ISO on your digital camera is the speed at which the sensor reacts to light – the HIGHER the number, the MORE reactive to light.  For example, an ISO of 800 will be more reactive to light than 100.  In the following pictures, the only thing that was changed was the ISO setting.

So, you can have the same amount of existing light and get a brighter picture simply by adjusting the ISO.  This becomes very useful when you’re taking pictures in a low-light situation and you don’t want to or can’t use a flash.  For example:

So, if you’ve ever been indoors, at a basketball game, or at an assembly and couldn’t or didn’t want to use a flash – increasing the ISO is the answer.  Finally, you’ll be able to get the images that you’ve been missing!

The only drawback to increasing ISO is ‘noise.’  Noise is pixelation and discoloration of the image that is created by increasing the ISO too high and making the sensor ‘hyper-sensitive.’  Look at the following examples of images that are enlarged:

With today’s cameras, noise is not as big of an issue as it once was.  Generally, you will only see noise if you are printing an enlargement of your image.  My camera will go up to 6400 ISO!  That means I’m very cool and my high-end ISO is likely larger than yours…which is what really matters.

FotoFriday: The “Magic Touch”

Thanks to many weeks of practice with newborns, I have been designated as the photographer with the “magic touch.”

This past week was full of newborn appointments. Thanks to a great teacher (Eric), I have learned the ins and outs of making a baby happy even when they are screaming at the top of their lungs.

During a sitting this week Victoria and I devoted all of our attention to coaxing a baby to sleep in order to get that “perfect” shot.

This particular picture was taken by Eric on his i-phone (and no he doesn’t have the i-phone 4 yet, he’s devastated). As you can see, I’m sitting on the floor with binki, tissue, and bottle in hand. This little tyke was not about to let us pose him while he was awake.

I’m stoked about the vast amount of knowledge I’m gaining. It is a constant learning process but a fun one nonetheless. Woot Woot. Until next time,…Ciao!

FotoU: Using F-Stop to Create a Better Photograph

When you take a picture, there is always something that you’re focusing on.  Whether it’s a flower or a person or a fruit bowl – you want that ‘thing’ to stand out.  There are usually miscellaneous other elements, typically in the background, that you don’t care about.  The background could have trees, traffic, trampolines, tricksters (that’s all the ‘tr’ words I could think of off the top of my head)…that you don’t want in your photo.  The question is, ‘How do I get rid of the stuff that I don’t want?’  Your options are to spend an hour in Photoshop, freeze everything in time and move to another location, or use a lower F-Stop.

The F-Stop is a measure of how open your shutter is when you take a photo.  It’s like the iris of your eye – except not as pretty (that was for the ladies).

The confusing thing is that, as your F-Stop gets lower, the shutter opens wider.  This ridiculous system of numbers was created by terrorists to damage our morale.  Here’s how the F-Stops relate to the size of the opening:

When the shutter is wide open, your ‘depth of field’ gets very shallow – only the subject is in focus.  Simply, when you have a low F-Stop, the background gets blurry.  Look at this example:

F2.8                                                                                                                                F16

Notice how the distracting background vanishes and the focus is completely on the subject of your photograph.  This is a good thing when you’re trying to make something stand out in your photograph.  Here are examples of some flowers I photographed on vacation (I usually photograph more masculine items like Jeeps and wrenches):

Without having a low F-Stop and a shallow depth of field, these photographs would not have been nearly as eye-catching.  A low F-Stop allowed me to focus on just one thing.  I was able to control what the viewer saw.

To shoot with a low F-Stop, simply change your camera mode to ‘Av.’  Av stands for ‘aperture priority.’  Once you have the mode set to Av, set the F-Stop to the lowest possible number.  In aperture priority mode, the camera will automatically make the necessary adjustments to shutter speed to get the correct light exposure at the F-Stop you’ve selected.

It is especially important, when taking portraits, to get the subject to stand out from the background.  Again, a low F-Stop allows you to create a better portrait. This helps us to focus on what’s important in the image.  This next picture was taken the day before I had open-heart surgery.  I wanted the focus to be the relationship between my daughter and I – not the rocks and flowers.  I think we could all use a blurry background sometimes to help us focus on what matters.  :)