December 2012

Paint with light…

photographer (from Greek φωτός (photos), meaning “light”, and γράφω (graphos), meaning “written”) is a person who takes photographs

So, according to that, we are supposed to tell a story and do it with light.  Sounds easy enough I suppose.  So why are there so many bad photographs out there?  I’m thinking it’s because anyone can pick up a camera, and some even read the manual and know how to set the dials on something other than automatic.

Red, white, and blue?

The difference between a wonderful photo and a lack luster photo is almost always the difference between light and dark.  Contrast.  Sometimes a LOT of contrast and sometimes a little.  This depends on the story you are wanting to tell…the feeling you want to leave people with when they look at the photo.

Have you ever wondered why everyone seems to love black and white photos?  It’s simple really.  There are a couple main things I can think of, at least for me.  First, I tend to focus on what the photo is about and not so much about the colors.  Colors can distract from the emotion of the subject.  It can be easier to tell a story.  Second, and more to my point, is that with Black and White you have to have contrast.  You can’t have a flat photo…it doesn’t work in B&W.

I’m not saying you can’t do the same thing with a color photo.  But make sure you are doing your job as an artist and make sure you are, indeed, writing a story with light. (and dark)

B&A

Stand back and put the camera down

We love to shoot.

It’s a passion and we certainly don’t do it often enough.  We tend to want to just start shooting away as soon as we have someone playing and posing in front of our camera.  It’s a natural instinct.

Then we get back to the computer and upload the images.  We go through them and often think…if we’d payed attention to all those needles in the snow we might have cleaned them up before laying her in the middle of them to shoot.  Or if the light had been just a little more to the left and down her eyes would have really popped.  It’s to late.  Sure, some of the shots are going to be fine.

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This is when you have to ask yourself…is FINE what I was after?  I hope not.  I doubt you are reading this is average is what you are after.

 

I have a habit of stopping often and just standing there and looking at the model, the lighting, and the overall setting.  Yeah, it’s a little odd and I usually tell the model to relax while I think this through.  After all, I don’t want them to think I’m just staring at them and they are awaiting direction from me at this point.

So, stop.  Set the camera down.  Look at the light, where it’s coming from, how it will hit the model, and envision what the end shot will look like.

 

 

Envisioning the end shot is the hard part, at least at first.  Once you have experience you can look at something you take right on the back of the camera and have a fairly good idea of what you can do with it.  I’ve found more and more I look at a picture and get excited about the possibilities of the shot when everyone else looks and doesn’t see what I see.  Often my finished shots don’t look very close to the original so in my case it’s even more important to look and imagine what I can do with it.  So, it’s slightly more important to get it right…to take my time.  Unless the sun is going down there’s time.

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Don’t get into the ‘spray and pray’ mode of shooting.  If you have a model that poses well from shot to shot, get everything working right and then let him or her go through 6-12 of their expressions and then stop.  I do often show them the first test shots to let them know what the lighting is like and how to angle their heads the best to take advantage of the lighting.  Then let them play as you shoot.  Those will be great shots.

So, take your time.  Enjoy being creative.  Train your eye to look at the shot in the view finder for a while before hitting that shutter button.

One thing I’ve done, even in the studio, is to wear the R strap with my camera.  Then, when I want to think, talk with the model, whatever, the camera is at my side.  And it’s not far away in those rare and fun moments in time when a perfect shot hits you in the face and you need to get it quickly.

Canon 6D wifi feature…

I’ve used the 6D for studio shooting a few times now and it’s light, simple to use, and I’m very happy with the quality.  The 7D now feels like a tank.

Up until yesterday I had the 6D connecting through the studio wifi router as an infrastructure connection.  That meant no direct connection between it and the iPad I wanted to use to show the pictures.  I found later that this added a delay between a quick unfocused version of the preview and a clear version to replace it.  Sometimes up to 20 seconds.  Not good.  And, this doesn’t allow for location viewing on the iPad since I’d be away from the router.

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So, I changed to the peer-to-peer option that set up the 6D as an access point that the iPad could directly connect to.  This eliminated any delay of the preview image.  And, as we shot on location I could hand the iPad to the model to look them over to get an idea of how her posing was and what I was getting.

Other than forgetting the iPad on the ground and walking off leaving this bright pink (don’t ask) fully loaded iPad in a busy park, we got some good use from this feature.  Oh, and there are plenty of honest people around.  I figure 100 people walked right past it and left it sitting right there.  Good heart workout without having to run!

On the drive home the model went through the whole shoot and deleted some obviously bad shots.  That also removes them from the card in the camera so be careful letting people use that feature.  It can be turned off.  She also stared the ones she liked and this is very handy since those stars are added to the meta data on the camera because when I imported those shots into Lightroom they had the stars set.  I can see myself looking through shoots this way and trimming the fat before an import.

One thing to note is that I found it was easier to have the camera and iPad set to stay on all the time…or at least the camera since it’s the access point.  If the camera isn’t on, the iPad or iPhone can’t see the pictures.  The battery in the 6D seems to handle that just fine.  It last as long as my 5D or 7D, even with wifi turned on.

This wifi feature has turned out to be as useful as I’d hoped.  It’s certainly becoming a standard way of shooting for me already.

To pose or not to pose…let’s pose that question

The hard part about photographing a person is getting a great shot of a pose that doesn’t look like a pose.  It’s not easy to do.  Actually, it’s damned hard to do and very often overlooked.  And it makes the difference between a great shot and a snap shot.

Now we know the first 30 minutes of a shoot is often a warm up period and little good comes out of it as far as a good shot.  So, use this time to chat with the subject as you are testing gear and getting some lighting ideas.  See how they change when the camera is pointed at them.  If their eyes get bigger, or they put on a pout, or flip their hair back every time…well, that’s a good sign you have some work to do.  Subjects who actively change when the camera is pointed at them are not going to look natural.  And it’s that natural look that makes a shot interesting.

I think the problem is that some think a picture isn’t supposed to echo life.  It’s supposed to have the subject looking different somehow.  What makes a great shot isn’t an unnatural pose, or a big smile, or some out of place prop.  It’s the look in the eyes, the definition of the light coming across their body, and that sense of voyeurism of being able to stare at someone without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

The natural pose should simply say ‘you can look at me’ and not ‘HEY, look at me!” 

So, when I point my camera at my subject I watch close to see how they react.  That’s my job to get something special, catch them in candid moments, any split seconds that would be moving enough to stare at for a bit.

I don’t shoot smiles often.  When I do they are natural…I never ask a model to smile.  There is a difference.

Like everything else in this or anyone’s blog, it’s an opinion.  It’s the way someone else sees some topic and you can agree or disagree.  Everything can be a learning experience if you have an open mind.

Focus your mind and camera

I’m sure you all run into this when shooting. Between poses the subject smiles a certain way, tilts their head into the light just so, looks down, up, or flips some hair that fell…and yeah, THAT was, or would have been, an amazing shot.

Dimity December 2012

I call this an ‘as shot’ because it’s exactly like it came from the camera.

I’ve learned to simply glance at the back of the camera once after a lighting change to make sure it’s what I want. After that, it’s keeping my mind and eye (and camera) focused on the subject ready to catch that impossible to plan shot. The one candid shot that really gives the viewer a glimpse at the real person. I use the words ‘freeze’ and ‘stay’ a lot. And I usually just give the subject some painfully general instructions on the pose. If the lighting is super critical I’ll share on the back of the camera what the shots are going to look like so they can plan their looks to the lights. Other than that, as long as I’m not battling the DITH look (deer in the headlights) it usually goes very well.

I now average 400-700 shots in a 2-4 hour shoot. Some would still look at that as ‘Spray and Pray’ but it’s not. I did that a lot when I was new so I know what that is. No control and you have no idea what you have when you upload. When I look at my uploads there are very distinct sets and multiple shots were trying to catch that smirk, wink, hair falling in the face, that shot that makes it real and interesting, or just fun. It gives the subject the freedom to play a bit in that set.

So, next time you notice you are spending a lot of time looking into the back of your camera, or sharing those shots with the subject, remember that you are loosing focus.