When Everything Goes Right

By Roger (28 September 2014)

Savor the days when everything comes out exactly as your client wants it. They don't happen all the time. You know those days when the birds are singing like Mary Poppins is at the window. When you get nothing but green lights on the road. I don't get whole, entire days like that, but, I recently had a perfect photo session.

I'm a big proponent for thinking out your photo shoot when possible. For this shoot, the client was my family. When you get it right for them, they're all amazed that you didn't screw it up. ;-)

Success!

Success!

We have a family event coming up this week, so most of the family is here. This caused my grandson to miss school on the day they were making the yearbook photos. (The boy won't be three until January – do they really make yearbooks for pre-schoolers?!) So, we decided to make one here.

We've all seen the cliché yearbook photos, with the kid on a small bench, in front of a blurred background. This type of photo used to be standard fare for studios. This is what my daughter-in-law wanted. Just like the old days.

The studios used these kinds of sets because they are quick and easy to set up. When you're facing an entire school of kids, you don't want anything to slow you down. The formula for the set-up was foolproof enough that you just put the subject on the stool and anyone could push the shutter button. I never shoot this kind of photo. I like to catch children out running around, having fun, unposed and unrefined.

So, when the request was made, I started thinking about how to give the DIL what she wanted. When you break down this type of photo to its basic components, it isn't hard. Anyone can pull it off. Your main requirement is speed because a child this young isn't going to cooperate very long in this environment.

Studios had semi-permanent sets, with a bunch of painted backdrops for the blurred background. Nature seemed to be a favorite backdrop. I don't have a studio or painted backdrops. I do, however, have a big line of bushes that would suffice. The sun is coming through them, late in the day, to give that dappled light look we all remember. A wide open aperture would give the appropriate bokeh.

Lighting was easy in the studio because they never moved it. I decided to use one flash, with a shoot through umbrella, mounted on a portable light stand. The umbrella gave me a soft, even light and added some dimension to his face, which I needed because the open shade was flat and totally lacking in character.

While Dodge was taking his nap, I grabbed his older cousin to check everything out. (She's much better at taking directions and loves to pose.) I used manual mode on both the camera and flash to keep the exposures consistent. I made a measly four test shots, and we were ready.

We checked the location before the "real" photo session.

We checked the location before the "real" photo session.

As soon as he woke up, we got him ready and promised a nice bribe if he managed to behave. Wonder of wonders, he did. His mom had him make some faces, and we were done. Ten shots in 10 minutes, with no tears (from either of us). There was no need to shoot more.

The old-style school photograph.

The old-style school photograph.

The deep, thoughtful pose

The deep, thoughtful pose

Sure these are formula shots, guaranteed to drive me insane if I spent every day putting them together. You won't ever see these photos hanging in the Louvre, but they will be displayed on a more humble wall. More importantly, these are the photos my DIL wanted. And, as long as the client is happy, you've done your job.

The lesson for today is when you're prepared for your shoot, and you're lucky, you get to be super photoman, every now and then. Enjoy it and move on like it always happens that way. We high-fived each other and went in for some brownies and ice cream.

Tomorrow, I'll probably get hit by a bus! ;-) Hope your weekend was happy, too.

His ultra-cool look

His ultra-cool look

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Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there. If you can't come to Harpers Ferry, you can join one of the other photowalks, in a location near you. Look on the official Worldwide Photowalk page here.

Fallingwater

By Mark

Yes, after missing the last two weeks due to sheer laziness, or lots of work—you pick which one you believe, I’m back.  Last weekend we took a trip to Morgantown West Virginia in order to watch the OU Sooners play fooseball.  It was a surprisingly fun visit as the fans tailgating in the acres of parking lots surrounding the stadium were incredibly friendly.  Not at all what we had been led to believe.

All of the hotels in the town were booked solid, so we stayed up in Uniontown, PA.  That was a different kind of experience.  Anyway, to get there you have to drive through the mountains by Ohiopyle.  One of the most famous architectural landmarks in the country is also right there—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  

Built in the great depression for what was even then an outrageous sum, this compound defines “organic architecture” even today.   He designed and built it from local materials and it is built into and around the rocks and waterfalls of the hills.  I’ve wanted to visit for years and so I reserved our tickets online at: http://www.fallingwater.org/

Unfortunately, because of the fact that the furnishings are original and fragile and the volume of people so great, they don’t let you take photos inside during the tour.

Looking back in through the windows

Looking back in through the windows

Afterwards though, you can wander around the external terraces and especially around the grounds.  Now, FLW loved design most of all.  From a structural engineering perspective, he didn’t do so well.  The flat roof and huge terraces attract a lot of water.  They had over 50 leaks when they first moved in and still have water issues today.  The huge cantilevered terraces didn’t quite have enough support and started to sag.  Luckily the owner brought in an outside firm and they installed extra supports during construction, which mad FLW mad, but probably saved the house. 

The entryway fountain with soap on a rope for the guests

The entryway fountain with soap on a rope for the guests

Water and stone work together everywhere you look.  It was a rainy and misty day, which softened everything.  There is a trail specifically designed to get you to this view. 

Up in the hills, the first signs of fall were already visible, even before the equinox. 

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

We stopped in the town of Ohiopyle for lunch and to see the waterfall.  Even though the water levels were down, the power was impressive to see and to hear.  

I can highly recommend making the four hour drive there to see it.  Just get your tickets well in advance.  

Lighting on the Road

By Roger (14 Sep 2014)

When you’re photographing people outside, without any lighting equipment, you need to pay attention to what the light from the sun is doing to your subjects. OK, actually, you always need to do that, regardless of the subject, but, go with me on the sun and people thing.

This week, I’m goofing off in Canada for a few days, visiting family and friends and learning the proper time to add an “Eh?” at the end of my sentences. All of the sudden, this cute baby (I know, that’s redundant) comes into my viewfinder, and I don’t have any lighting equipment with me. There’s a nice, late afternoon sun outside, so we decide to put that to some good use to light this cherub. This may happen to you, some day, so how do you handle it? Let’s demonstrate some courses of action and figure out what I think works best. As always, there are exceptions to what my favorite “rules” are in this situation. You decide what will work best for your model.

For some reason, most beginning photographers put the sun behind themselves. This is rarely the right thing to do. It lights up the faces and gets rid of shadows, but that leads to a flat, frontal light and anguished, squinty faces. Ryann – she’s the short one in this family – gives me the appropriate face for this kind of lighting. Yeah, she can’t talk, yet, but her expression says, “This yokel is doing it all wrong.”

Don't put the sun in your models' faces

Don't put the sun in your models' faces

If we change their position so the sun is coming from the side, we get better light. The models’ eyes are no longer squinting into the sun. Go between this photo and the first, and you can see their body language is much more relaxed. Dad has a hot spot on his face that I don’t like, but the highlights are not blown out. I can correct that in post-processing, but the goal is always to get it right in camera.

Light from side is better

Light from side is better

For me, the best solution is to put the models between my camera and the sun. This keeps the sun out of their eyes and puts a nice rim light around their hair. If I was carrying one of my reflectors on this trip, I could use that to bounce some fill light back at them. Even without the reflector, you can see how much better this lighting solution turned out.

I like this lighting the most

I like this lighting the most

For your own safety, always include a photo with Nona

For your own safety, always include a photo with Nona

These are not the only solutions, of course. You have probably heard of people looking for some open shade to block out the bright sun.  This is another option that can work well, especially for these types of “capture-the-moment” shots. However, open shade usually gives you another version of flat (uninteresting?) light. Reflectors are useful here, as well, to put in some shadowing and give more interest to your photo.

In the next two shots, I got some fill light from below, from the patio, and from the side, bouncing off the house. Remember, you don’t need an official photographer’s reflector to put fill light into a scene. You can use towels, shirts, or anything handy to bounce some light into the scene.

Open shade, with light bouncing into the scene

Open shade, with light bouncing into the scene

Unless you are doing a planned photo session, you want to keep things quick, especially with little ones. We knocked out these photos in less than 10 minutes. Most people are happy to cooperate with you when you keep it short.

This is on the road editing (my travel workflow description is here, if you didn’t see it), so I’ll make some changes to the final images when I return home. For now, it’s time to have some tourist fun and head for Niagara Falls at sunset. There may be some photos there, too.

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Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk here. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there.