Portraits thumbnails only

Lighting the Princess – Going Simple High Key for the Prom Lighting the Princess – Going Simple High Key for the Prom
With 9 students planning to arrive for prom pictures within a short period of time, I had to be ready. The entire week preceding the big day was extra cloudy with lots of rain. The forecast for the Saturday afternoon shoot was calling for clouds with a 30% chance of light rain. Clouds would be perfect for afternoon outdoor lighting, the grass was very green and the new spring leaves on the trees were a great color for a background, but that chance of rain required a studio setup be on standby.
 
White matches everything, so ... I went with white this year.
 
Setting up for a high key white background is not hard nor is it expensive. If shooting partial body portraits, a white wall, white reflector or white foam core can work well as the background. For full body portraits, rolled paper is often the best option and it works great. Savage Widetone Seamless Paper Background is what I use.
 
To hold the rolled paper in place, a background stand (I have Impact and Manfrotto brands) is needed. The rolled paper slides onto the top bar of the background stand and rolls out onto the floor to the front (get another person to hold the background stand up while unrolling the paper as the stand could easily tip over during this step). I gaffer tape the paper to the floor to keep it from rolling back up and clamp the roll of paper to the top bar to keep it from further unrolling.
 
High Key Lighting Setup
 
More complicated than the background setup is the lighting and the balancing of the lights. I typically start my light balancing setup with the camera exposure settings. With powerful strobes in use, I have a lot of flexibility even at the lowest noise ISO setting of 100. With the EOS 1D X Mark II and similar-resolution full frame cameras, I generally start with f/11. This aperture gives me a lot of depth of field, keeping much or all of the subject in focus along with room for error (it is rare to get an out of focus portrait at f/11) without compromising image sharpness to diffraction. Note that, when using a solid-colored background such as rolled paper, there is little benefit to blurring the background via a wide aperture. A 1/160 shutter speed is about as fast as I trust the PocketWizards to trigger the first strobe and for the rest to optically trigger while the shutter is fully open, so that is what I go with. The f/11, 1/160 and ISO 100 combination is generally enough to overwhelm any ambient light present.
 
For lighting with consistent requirements, manual flash settings are ideal and ... the only option I have with my Elinchrom Digital Style studio monolights (Elinchrom ELC Pro HD Flash Heads are the current models).
 
For the high key background, I place a softbox-fitted strobe on each side of the paper with the power set high enough to blow out the background in the selected exposure (but not higher than necessary as flare could become an issue). I was tempted to place a 4x8' piece of clear Plexiglas on the floor under the subject to better reflect the bright background, but ... I feared that the parade of subjects flowing through my studio would not be kind to this relatively-expensive piece of plastic's useful lifespan.
 
To keep the background reflection from strongly influencing the lighting on the subject (a wrapping light the softens the transition from subject to the background), the subject should be positioned well in front of the background. The subject to background distance was about 10' (3m) in this example.
 
Prom is all about the dress (or tux) and a 54" octagonal softbox angled just slightly downward and directly at the subject from camera-left created an even light emphasizing the dresses. This light was adjusted to the output needed for proper dress brightness with care taken to not overexpose the dress as reducing brightness during post processing can reduce the background's whiteness. A 24x24" softbox on a Manfrotto boom was positioned above the subject to light their head with the appropriate brightness setting used for that.
 
While it takes multiple lights to effectively create a high key effect and light the subject, the light sources do not have to be studio strobes. I have done the same many times with Speedlites and constant lights, can also be utilized. And, the background does not have to be pure white as long as your background lights are bright enough to make whatever color is available bright enough. I've even shot high key corporate portraits using a light-colored wallpaper background. Hit it with enough light and it turns white.
 
Umbrellas can be used in place of softboxes.
 
By the time my first subject arrived (my own daughter was first and about 1 hour late), the day was bright, sunny and unfavorable for lighting in my preferred outdoor locations. It didn't take much thought to know that the indoor option was best.
 
With the lighting and camera settings all dialed in before any subjects arrived, I was able to take lots of photos in a short/compressed amount of time.
 
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is an excellent portrait lens and 70mm is just wide enough for comfortably shooting full length portraits in my studio space. The just-arrived Canon EOS-1D X Mark II was my camera choice for this shoot. This scenario was a walk in the park for this camera.
 
80mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Sitting on the Swing Sitting on the Swing
When sitting on a swing, the ropes and hands holding them nicely frame the face. Light is from a cloudy sky. The 85mm focal length and f/1.4 aperture combine to completely eliminate the background.
 
85mm  f/1.4  1/1600s  ISO 100
Ballerina Picture Ballerina Picture

 
200mm  f/2.8  1/250s  ISO 100
Baby Picture Baby Picture

 
70mm  f/8.0  1/180s  ISO 100
Little Girl in Sunglasses Picture Little Girl in Sunglasses Picture

 
68mm  f/4.5  1/125s  ISO 100
Girl with Canon Super Telephoto Lens Girl with Canon Super Telephoto Lens
She is not quite tall enough to get the Canon EF 500mm f/4 L IS USM Lens off the floor!
 
130mm  f/4  1/125s  ISO 100
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Lens Captures Senior Track Picture Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Lens Captures Senior Track Picture
Brianna, my high school senior, has had a very successful high school track career from multiple perspectives including having her name on three school records. This success did not come without a huge effort on her part, and we had discussed shooting a more-formal senior picture highlighting her passion for mid-distance running. Track season became busy and I shot many images of her competing, but time got away from us and suddenly we had only one evening remaining before she had to turn in her uniform.
 
The weather forecast for that evening called for scattered showers and we were watching the radar very closely. I was packed and ready, and we decided to go for it. After determining the ideal location on the track to shoot at, I began unpacking.
 
I had three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites and a Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter to control them with. Two Speedlites were mounted on background light stands (small, light and simple) with Justin Clamps used to hold the Speedlites to the poles at any height I wanted. The third Speedlite was mounted to a weighted light stand with a 60" reversed/shoot-through umbrella mounted to a Manfrotto umbrella adapter.
 
I first mounted the umbrella to the stand and almost immediately a light rain began to fall. I quickly put Brianna, who feared that her hair and makeup would be ruined, under the Photogenic "umbrella". The rain mostly passed within 10 minutes or so and we went to work.
 
The two flashes on background light stands were set to group B and used as rim lights, placed to the side or slightly behind the subject as composition allowed. The shoot-through umbrella's flash was set to group A and used as the main light. Ambient light (for the entire background) was controlled through a manually-set camera exposure. The flashes were in E-TTL mode and +/- exposure for the two groups was controlled by the ST-E3-RT's Group mode.
 
While this may all sound complicated, it was not. Setup was very simple and I was able to quickly and easily adjust/balance the ambient, main and background light levels from the camera. While the rain stayed away for much of the two hours we were shooting, it did not fully stay away. Fortunately, this entire kit, including the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens, was weather-sealed and we were able to make many great images in this time.
 
I had planned this shoot for an evening so that the flashes would be able to overpower the ambient light levels, though I had hoped for a bit more light than we had. The aperture was wide and the ISO was moving up by the end of the evening. Still, the shoot was a big success for us.
 
Even selecting this particular image from the many shots of just this pose was difficult. With lighting dialed in, I had Brianna repetitively start from specific position on the track and take one big stride with her left knee and right arm (with the baton) forward. I timed the shutter release (a short shutter lag is extremely useful in this situation) for a near-top-of-stride subject position that coincided with the lighting setup. The composition was arranged to take advantage of the lines on the track.
 
With a wireless flash system and a little effort, we created the images we had envisioned.
 
30mm  f/4.0  1/100s  ISO 400
The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is Here – Time to Unleash the Ponies The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is Here – Time to Unleash the Ponies
The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens is all about speed and fast-moving subjects ideal for the 400mm focal length are scarce in my location right now. The race cars are all being re-built in preparation for the next season. With a layer of snow on the ground, outdoors sports are in the off-season. The ski slopes benefit from the snow, but the closest is hours away. The horses, however, are always ready for some galloping and provide a convenient subject for an AF performance testing session.
 
This American quarter horse's name is "Nugget", as in "gold nugget", referencing the coat color. "Gold" also reflects the parent's perspective of what it costs to keep a horse. The positive in this investment is that the kid's have had to do most of the horse maintenance work, teaching them responsibility and how to work hard. The horses are of course fast and fast makes them good focus performance test subjects. An added benefit of such testing is some nice pics of the kid(s), as long as the camera and lens perform well of course.
 
And to that matter, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens combo performed stellarly. They performed so well that they created a bit of a problem. It took forever to go through the well-over-2,000 images captured in this session as most were keeper-grade. With a great camera and lens, one's brain needs to be retrained to be OK with deleting really nice images. I keep telling myself that.
 
With steady lighting conditions (solid clouds), the setup for this shot was easy. Using manual mode, the shutter was set to 1/1600, a setting that I know works well for freezing galloping/cantering horse and similar action. The aperture was set to f/2.8 to let in as much light as possible and to create the strongest background blur possible. Having the shallowest depth of field possible also emphasizes the AF precision. The ISO was then adjusted until the snow was slightly overexposed, causing the brightest areas to blink while reviewing test images on the LCD. With the exposure locked in, I could concentrate on composition.
 
The AF mode was of course set to AI Servo (continuous) and the top-center AF point was selected with the surrounding points assisting (the horse bounces a lot, making it difficult to keep a single point on the rider's head).
 
While this camera and lens combination is handholdable, shooting it from a monopod is still more comfortable (especially for long shooting sessions) and doing so made tracking the subject easier.
 
Nugget was not moving very fast in this frame, but I liked the heavily-clouded sky in the background, making the subject pop with a bit of a high-key look. Note that snow is a great reflector and gives images a different look, usually in a positive way. I'll share other images of this horse in fast motion in the review. Some of these images will show another way this lens can make the subject pop – by strongly blurring the background.
 
400mm  f/2.8  1/1600s  ISO 400
Studio Portrait 2 Studio Portrait 2
The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM Lens is a great studio portrait lens - especially on a full frame body. It has the best portrait focal lengths, great image quality, image stabilization (helps greatly with accurate subject framing), has very reliable autofocus and does not flare (very helpful when studio lights are aimed toward it). This portrait was obviously taken with studio lighting - here is an overview of the lighting setup:
 
Just right of the camera, close to the subject and just out of the frame is the main light - an Elinchrom Digital Style 1200 RX Monolight fired into a 53" Elinchrom Rotalux Junior Octa Softbox. Just outside of the frame to the camera left is a 32" White Photoflex LiteDisc mounted to a lightstand. The reflector is bouncing light from the main strobe back into the subject - to fill the shadows.
 
The rim light is coming from an Elinchrom Digital Style 600 RX Monolight fired into a 20x51" Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox aligned about 180 degrees from the main light. The background is being lit by an Elinchrom Digital Style 600 RX Monolight fired into a 14x35" Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox positioned horizontally just above the floor behind the subject. A background light stand was used to hold this light. The subject is sitting on a simple kitchen stool.
 
The background is Savage Widetone Seamless Paper in #27 Thunder Gray (neutral color - goes with anything - can be lightened by adding more light from a strobe) held by a Manfrotto Background Support System. The strobes were triggered wirelessly using PocketWizards
 
The result of all of this is of course the important part - a picture that reflects the beauty of the subject. Soft lighting on the face (no harsh shadows) and nice separation from the not-competing-for-attention background results in a clean, attractive portrait. The 100mm focal length is a good choice for this portrait framing.
 
100mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Three Angels Picture Three Angels Picture
These kids really are three little angels!
 
More about this shot ...
The main light was provided by a Canon 580ex Flash fired into a Photogenic Eclipse 60" Umbrella. The background light was from a Canon 550ex Flash. Both flashes were triggered by a Canon ST-E2 Transmitter. The background is a very large piece of white muslin fabric. The background flash is not large/powerful enough to make the entire background completely white - Adobe Photoshop to the rescue.
 
32mm  f/10  1/200s  ISO 100
Playing in the Dirt Picture Playing in the Dirt Picture
A little girl shows her dirty hands after planting flowers.
 
35mm  f/2.2  1/400s  ISO 100
Cute Kid Cute Kid
Lighting in this cute kid pic is compliments of the setting sun.
 
100mm  f/2.2  1/500s  ISO 200
Find Out Where the Bumble Bee Went Find Out Where the Bumble Bee Went
My site-related work consumes most of my time and I gave up trying to process all of my images long ago. After looking at all images and selecting down to my favorites, I just save all of the remaining RAW files and focus on processing my favorites and those that have other immediate value.
 
Recently, I carved out time to go through my youngest daughter's fall soccer pictures. I had decided to share one with you and had the selection narrowed down to 3 images (out of thousands).
 
Of the three images, two happened to be adjacent in a burst and one had an extra element of interest, a large bumble bee flying into the scene. Usually, I remove inadvertent insects from my sports photos. But, as I was editing the next image in that sequence, I noticed Mikayla's left cheek appeared differently colored/shaded and ... then I noticed the bee flying backward just below her ear. The bee had flown into her cheek, leaving an indentation and then bounced off. The 1D X II's fast frame rate caught that and I was amused.
 
What Happened to the Bee
 
Here are some of the qualities I like about this image:
 
Both the ball and the player's eyes are in the frame and the eyes are in sharp focus. That the entire player's body is within the frame is also often-desired. With the original image framed somewhat loosely, cropping allowed optimal composition.
 
Desirable is that the player's body position is open toward the camera and all limbs are visible (an arm or portion thereof did not go missing behind the body for example). All limbs stretched out indicates fast action – as do both feet off of the ground. If the athlete has long hair, the position of that hair can add to an image.
 
A positive is that the background is both strongly-blurred and very colorful. What is in the background can often be determined by your position on the sideline. While there are a lot of bad backgrounds at sporting events, the team's bench will often provide some color for you. Also, your height above the field makes a difference with the background pushing farther away when a low position is used (and the athlete appears large). The strong blur seen here is courtesy of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens combination.
 
For a sporting event, the lighting seen here is excellent. The photographer cannot choose game time and mid-afternoon, with a high-in-the-sky sun, can have terrible lighting. If the sun is bright, there will be hard shadows in the frame and especially under a clear sky, heat waves can spell disaster for image sharpness. If the sky is cloudy or the sun has set, dark conditions require a high ISO setting which means lots of noise. On this afternoon, the conditions were perfect. There were just enough clouds to diffuse the light, but not enough to require a high ISO setting. The non-directional lighting meant that I could set up optimally for both the background and for the expected direction of the game play.
 
With this share, I wrap up my fall 2017 soccer season. And, Mikayla is safe from the bees for a few months.
 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 400
Playing Dress-up Playing Dress-up
Photography and family are tightly interwoven. A great way to have fun and get some great shots of the kids is for them to play dress-up and for you to take their picture while dressed-up.
 
First, source the clothes and accessories. These can be from the parents' closet, but thrift stores and prom/special occasion retailer close-outs are great sources for these items.
 
The kids have a blast putting on and showing their outfits - and that makes great expressions easy to come by.
 
244mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Leaning against Bubble Rock on South Bubble Mountain Leaning against Bubble Rock on South Bubble Mountain
It looks like you could give this monstrous Acadia National Park boulder a little push and send it over the edge. Fortunately, that is not the case. Bubble Rock remains there for you to see. Fall colors, as seen in the background, are spectacular in Maine.
 
40mm  f/11.0  1/80s  ISO 200
Outdoor Portrait Outdoor Portrait
Brightly colored fall leaves for the background for this telephoto portrait.
 
210mm  f/5.6  1/200s  ISO 200
In The Rocks Picture In The Rocks Picture
A little girl peers out of her rock house.
 
65mm  f/5  1/25s  ISO 400
Newborn Foal Picture Newborn Foal Picture
A newborn foal (less than 1 day old) is getting aquainted with her owner while her overly-protective mother oversees the situation. This shot was taken from inside an 11'x12' stall. Lighting is from an open top half of a Dutch door and large overhead skylights.
 
16mm  f/2.8  1/100s  ISO 800
Girl in Tank Top Picture Girl in Tank Top Picture
A setting sun yields nice lighting for a pretty young lady.
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/1250s  ISO 100
Wide Angle Girl Portrait Wide Angle Girl Portrait
A setting sun-lit girl with lots of sky behind her.
 
24mm  f/3.5  1/160s  ISO 100
Family on Bay Dock - Chincoteague Island Sunset Family on Bay Dock - Chincoteague Island Sunset
A small family watches the abundant birdlife from this Chincoteague Island bay dock at sunset.
 
800mm  f/10.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Little Princess Picture Little Princess Picture
A little princess playing dress-up. Lighting is from Elinchrom monolights and softboxes.
 
98mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Running Above the Cloud Running Above the Cloud
Running down sand dunes is great fun for kids - and makes for great photos. This sand dune is located in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah. I used AI Servo AF mode and burst drive mode to capture this shot.
 
105mm  f/8.0  1/500s  ISO 400
The Canon EOS M6 Mark II, a Model, and a Lamborghini Huracan The Canon EOS M6 Mark II, a Model, and a Lamborghini Huracan
The background typically consumes a large portion of the image and what it looks like matters. When the background is a bright red Lamborghini Huracan, the background begins to vie with the subject for attention, at least for us car guys and gals.
 
In this scenario, I gave the M6 II's AF system full control, selecting servo AF mode with face and eye detection. With the camera very impressively handling the task of following the model's face and eyes, I could concentrate fully on composition and that was especially helpful when shooting in awkwardly low positions such as this one.
 
24mm  f/4.0  1/125s  ISO 800
Sisters Picture Sisters Picture
Three sisters get their picture taken - and one does not seem happy about it!
 
85mm  f/7.1  1/160s  ISO 100
Senior Portrait Senior Portrait
It is hard to believe that I have my own senior to photograph this year. Shooting your own senior portraits has huge advantages including being able to take advantage of various times of the day, locations and outfits. It is also a good excuse to buy or rent various lenses to try out.
 
The venerable Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Lens was in my hands on this day and Brianna was looking good (I of course think she always looks good). When shooting wide aperture primes at their max apertures, there is usually a noticeable amount of vignetting. The 55mm focal length on a full frame body is best used for head-and-shoulders and wider portraits that leave the subject's face darkened relative to what is in the center of the frame (her shirt in this case).
 
In this example, I chose to correct the vignetting. Another option is to use a narrower aperture. Because I wanted the background blur of f/1.4, I took the former option.
 
Also note the camera angle and how this angle makes the subject appear.
 
The lighting for this portrait is natural through large windows and the shaded window in the background provides a frame for the subject.
 
55mm  f/1.4  1/60s  ISO 100
Ballet Dance Picture Ballet Dance Picture
A young girl performs in her ballet recital.
 
200mm  f/2.8  1/200s  ISO 1250
Girl in Overalls Picture Girl in Overalls Picture
Standing with her hands in her blue jean overalls pockets, this little girl looks up with a big smile.
 
35mm  f/4.5  1/125s  ISO 100
The Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens Rocked at the Concert The Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens Rocked at the Concert
Credentialed access to a 4 hour concert in a 15,000-seat indoor stadium seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the Canon EOS R and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens a workout while the mostly high-energy performers also got a workout.
 
When photographing low light action, one historically had to choose between a moderately wide aperture (f/2.8) in a zoom lens and an ultra-wide aperture (f/1.4 for example) in a prime lens. With the RF 28-70, you can have both a wide aperture and a zoom focal length range. While some prime lenses still have the wide aperture advantage, the RF 28-70 f/2 L lens bridges the divide and, especially from an image quality perspective, is an outstanding option for low light needs including concert photography.
 
The spot lights happened to be on the singer (Ledger) in this image, allowing a very clean ISO 800 with a shutter speed adequate to stop most of the motion at f/2. Other images were captured at ISO settings as high as 6400 where the 1-stop advantage this zoom lens has over most other zooms makes a considerably bigger difference in image quality.
 
At concerts, the location of the action is often unpredictable and changing fast and that means focal length changes are required, ideally fitting for a zoom lens. Yes, some prime lenses could have given me another 1-stop lower ISO setting, but I would have minimally needed multiple cameras to cover the same range and often the performers were moving so fast that the shot would have been long gone by the time the cameras were swapped. Shooting wider and cropping later is an option, but lower resolution images are the result.
 
Also great for fast moving subjects was the R's touch and drag AF. With the left hand adjusting the focal length and the right thumb moving the focus point as needed for ideal framing, the EOS R was an ideal choice.
 
Every shoot teaches new lessons and here are a few concert photography tips from that night.
 
First, if photographing with a media pass, know without a doubt which gate you are supposed to enter through and be ready to politely ask for a additional opinions when the first person(s) thinks they know the different gate you are required to enter through. This saves walking half way around a stadium to the shipping and receiving area and waiting for a security guard to make a series of phone calls to figure out what you already knew and send you back to the other side of the stadium. If opting to ignore this advice, strongly consider arriving at least 1 hour early.
 
Also if photographing with a media pass, make sure that you have a signed copy of that pass (minimally on your phone) with you because the media reps for some reason may not have your name on the list. If offered a label with your name handwritten on it, request a lanyard because your camera strap is going to peel the label off within 10 minutes of your arrival, leaving you without the pass. Minimally attach the label to something that avoids the peel-off risk.
 
While your media pass may specify where you are supposed to photograph from, the media pass may not have been updated since the 360° stage was implemented. The specified locations may not exist and those working the show may have no clue about the topic or even how to get to the floor from the entrance level. Arrive early enough that if the instructions do not align with reality there is time to figure out where you are permitted to go without negatively impacting the show (it is probably not being performed for you).
 
Oh, if the tour is promoting a 360° stage, just get a ticket and leave the camera at home. Within seconds, the performer can be a basketball court distance away and even two cameras with complementing zoom lenses are not adequate. Compounding the problem is that you will have backs toward you for at least 270° of the stage.
 
I'll add these notes to the concert photography tips page.
 
28mm  f/2.0  1/500s  ISO 800
Cute Girl 7 Cute Girl 7
A cute little girl in the studio can make any photographer look good.
 
144mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Kid Soccer Picture Kid Soccer Picture
Going for the goal, this kid soccer player runs with the ball.
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/1000s  ISO 100
Girl Walking Picture Girl Walking Picture
A little girl takes a hike on a trail in the woods. This picture captures her in the midst of the Oak, Hickory and Poplar Tree fall beauty.
 
28mm  f/??  ??s  ISO 100
The Girls Picture The Girls Picture
Of course, one girl has an extra set of legs. Positioning three energetic kids is hard enough without throwing a dog into the mix. Of course, the dog helps keep the smiles going strong. Obviously, this image was shot in the studio.
 
85mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Little Girl Running 3 Little Girl Running 3
A little girl runs across a grass field on a cold fall afternoon.
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/800s  ISO 640
85mm Full Body Studio Portrait 85mm Full Body Studio Portrait
It is hard to go wrong with a Savage gray rolled paper background for studio portraits. The gray color matches a wide palette of wardrobe colors and looks classy. Gray also works well for formal corporate portraits.
 
The brightness of the gray background can be controlled with the background lights. Gray can range from black to nearly white depending on how much light you hit it with.
 
Lighting for this portrait is from Elinchrom studio strobes fired into softboxes.
 
85mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Flying Girls Picture Flying Girls Picture
Flying - or catching flies - I'm not sure which. With an f/1.4 aperture, action is easy to stop even after the sun has set as in this picture. Want to catch a different perspective and a happy expression? Put the kids on a trampoline.
 
50mm  f/1.4  1/1250s  ISO 400
Picking Apples Picture Picking Apples Picture

 
35mm  f/9.5  1/125s  ISO 100
12mm Environmental Portrait and The Making of My First Selfie 12mm Environmental Portrait and The Making of My First Selfie
I'm not focused on me, can be accused of under-marketing myself and until very recently, I had never taken a selfie (at least not one shared beyond the immediate family). Of course, when the request for a portrait came in, I didn't want to under-deliver on the effort and set out to have some fun, creating my first selfie. Since the task turned into a major project, I thought I would share some of the undertaking.
 
I know, I gave away the focal length choice in the title and right away some of you are thinking that I've lost my mind. The 12mm focal length, and anything close to it, is not going to create a pleasing portrait perspective, right? Not necessarily. Perspective is created by distance and, if you are far enough away from the subject, any rectilinear focal length can work (I'll save the fisheye discussion for another day). The 12mm angle of view includes a lot of environment in the frame at that adequate distance, and that was my goal for this shot.
 
I should mention that human subjects tend to look best closer to the center of an ultra-wide angle frame, avoiding the stretched look that can be present in the corners. Keeping the camera level (both pitch and yaw) also helps keep perspectives looking reasonable in this image, though you can still find some stretching closer to the borders. For example, the white lens on the left appears somewhat wide.
 
I stopped short of making this image into an I Spy photo, but there are lots of (hopefully) interesting items in this photo. Some are easy to see and some are more obscure (such as the Multicart R12RT loaded with camera backpacks). Overall, I tried to keep the image borders free of lines, fully containing most items in the frame. I also attempted to position the closest lenses so that the hoods were directly aligned with the camera with the hood lines mostly clear of intersecting lines, making them stand out, including the one in my hand.
 
After "decorating" my workspace (my wife's reference to what I was doing), I positioned the camera for the composition I was envisioning. Then, I started pulling out Speedlites.
 
For the main light, I opted for a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash with a Photogenic Eclipse 60" Umbrella positioned mostly above the camera. This setup provided a soft light over the entire foreground. To reduce the remaining shadows, a second 600EX-RT, with the wide angle diffuser down, was directed into a 30" umbrella positioned behind the camera. This flash was below the first umbrella and acted as a fill light. Note that it is a good idea to use the camera's eyepiece shade/shutter when firing a flash into the back of the camera (especially if using E-TTL metering).
 
I added a third 600EX-RT on a backlight stand behind me with the unmodified flash firing directly toward the camera. This light provided some rim lighting that helped to separate me from the background and lit up the middle layer of the image including some strong reflections.
 
The last Speedlite, a Canon 430EX III-RT, with its wide angle diffuser down, was placed on the floor deep into the studio. This flash's job was to keep the background from going dark.
 
While I ended up selecting this image for use, I also photographed with other camera positions and lighting variations. One change that I liked was moving the background-most flash under the desk and aimed at the left wall seen in this image. This added a pop of brightness that created some stronger lines in that area of the photo.
 
The Canon EOS 5Ds R was tripod-mounted and the tripod was placed immediately against the edge of the desk and triggered via a Canon RC-6 wireless remote. See it on the desk in front of me? I would press the release button, put the release on the desk and grab the lens in time for the 2 second self-timer trip the shutter.
 
I photographed this image in three exposures. The primary f/11 exposure was selected to keep the cloudy sky properly exposed (this exposure happened to be convenient for the overall image) with the flash output, controlled by a Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT, adjusted to balance the overall image.
 
A second exposure utilized a more-diffraction-softened f/16 aperture for keeping the closest subjects in better focus and the third exposure was 4 seconds, necessary to capture the image on the monitor. The three images were composited in Photoshop.
 
Note that ISO 200 was used to increase battery life in the flashes (18 AA batteries in use, I used two sets).
 
See the ColorChecker in the foreground? It is serving a dual purpose. The first purpose is to add some color pop that balances with the images on the walls and on the monitor. The second purpose is for an easy custom white balance. While the Canon EOS 5Ds R provided a good auto white balance in-camera, it was extremely simple to select the custom white balance eye dropper and click on a gray square for the ideal white balance.
 
So, that is the story of my selfie. If you are interested in capturing a selfie of your own, be sure to check out Sean's guide to self-portraits in the site's photography tips.
 
12mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 200
For Great Backgrounds, Have a Mountaintop Experience For Great Backgrounds, Have a Mountaintop Experience
Mikayla wanted to go riding and I wanted to give the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens a workout. Those "wants" fit together perfectly. For this session, we headed to the top of a nearby small mountain. With an unobstructed view and a low camera position, a very attractive, non-distracting background often becomes available in these "top" locations and that enables the primary subject to become prominent in the frame. The sky usually makes a good background and distant landscape also works well in that regard.
 
The 100-400mm focal length range is a great one for chasing the kids with. In this case, when the horse was standing as seen here, I could move in close and zoom out to make the horse and rider appear large in their environment. When the horse was moving at a fast speed, I could zoom in to catch more-distant (safer) action and zoom out as the pair approached.
 
The FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens is a great and much-needed part of Sony's lineup. Those with Sony-based kits should seriously consider acquiring this high-grade option (if it is not already there). This lens has the perfect combination of excellent performance and extreme usefulness.
 
128mm  f/5.0  1/400s  ISO 100
Silhouette of Two Girls Silhouette of Two Girls
The silhouette of two girls standing on top of a stone mountain.
 
70mm  f/5.0  1/200s  ISO 100
A Dog and Her Girl A Dog and Her Girl
A dog poses with her girl. Position your subject on the crest of a hill, use a long focal length lens set to a wide aperture and watch the background melt away. I didn't catch that she pulled her hat down (it was a very cold day), but I still like the shot.
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/1250s  ISO 100
The Canon EOS 90D and The Dream Garage The Canon EOS 90D and The Dream Garage
A Lamborghini Huracan AND a Kelly Moss Porsche 911 in the same garage? Those two cars are worth about as much as all of the camera lenses below the Conowingo Dam on a fall weekend. Yes, this is a dream garage and yes, there was drooling. With a 2.5-mile Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta just outside, my only question was "Where are the keys?!"
 
On this big day of test shooting, the Canon EOS 90D performed superbly, as its heritage leads us to expect. This is a superb general-purpose camera choice and while this particular scene did not challenge it, the subjects outside on the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta track provided a greater challenge, one which the 90D also met.
 
24mm  f/5.6  1/80s  ISO 800
Violin Recital 2 Violin Recital 2
A young violinist plays on a grand stage along with a grand piano accompaniment. The wide angle focal length emphasizes the violinist.
 
16mm  f/2.8  1/125s  ISO 400
Girl in Wagon in Apple Orchard Picture Girl in Wagon in Apple Orchard Picture

 
24mm  f/6.7  1/90s  ISO 100
Pretty Woman 4 Pretty Woman 4
A pretty woman walks in the bright afternoon sunshine.
 
1200mm  f/5.6  1/1000s  ISO 250
Young Girl at the Beach Picture Young Girl at the Beach Picture
In her orange suit, this young girl stands by the surf.
 
24mm  f/8  1/320s  ISO 100
Barefoot Waterskiing Picture Barefoot Waterskiing Picture
With a competent brother behind the lens, you and I both get to see what I look like. Barefooting is my most-extreme sport.
 
400mm  f/7.1  1/1000s  ISO 200
Bicycle Riding Picture Bicycle Riding Picture
A panning bicycle riding picture. The background is motion-blurred, the rider is sharp.
 
75mm  f/9  1/20s  ISO 100
Snuggling with the Colt Picture Snuggling with the Colt Picture
A 1 week old palomino Quarter Horse colt sleeps on the lap of a very happy young lady. How cute is that?!
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/500s  ISO 125
The Backyard Lion The Backyard Lion
Mikayla (she's 13) decided to make a lion costume. After a week of diligent designing, a run to the craft store, lots of cutting and plenty of sewing, she had a very impressive made-from-scratch full lion costume complete with a stuffed tail that had a curve at the end of it. She created the best lion costume she possibly could and my goal was to capture the fruition of her effort the best I could, creating a memory to cherish for a lifetime.
 
She finished the costume just in time to wear it Trick-or-Treating. For those unfamiliar with this tradition, the kids spend an evening walking around town wearing costumes and people hand out candy from their front doors. Well in advance, I requested time for a photo session with Mikayla wearing the costume, but ... kids in their most photogenic moments seem to be completed (hair, makeup, etc.) just in time to ... leave for their big event.
 
I requested 15 minutes notice prior to the photo op (I know, I ask for a lot), got 10 minutes and scrambled to finalize my decision on what the short photo session was going to look like. The amount of remaining daylight was the biggest question I had prior to this moment. It seemed logical that a lion should be outdoors, so I was hoping for some light remaining in the sky and with at least some ambient light, outdoors was the final location selection.
 
While the leaves were just beyond their peak fall colors, they were still clinging to the trees and had a still-nice color that was indicative of the autumn season. A location that could incorporate this color in the background was the next decision.
 
I knew that I wanted a blurred background, that I had plenty of working distance available and that I wanted subject framing ranging from environmental to tight headshots. I went with the 200mm focal length as it would work well for those requirements and I went with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS lens to maximize the background blur (and to get put the most available light possible onto the sensor).
 
Lions are known for their nasty predator look and for their roar. Mikayla was acting the part, but since she is a very sweet girl, the nasty-mean lion look made her naturally smile big soon afterward. I still find it a little unsettling to look at the pictures of her roaring, but definitely like the smiles that came afterward. And I like some of the little smiles that came between the two extremes, as seen here.
 
As planned, I captured a wide variety of poses and subject framing (in the 10 minutes of shooting time I was given). I liked many, but ... her crimped hair acting as the lion's mane "stood out" for me. So, I chose to share a moderately tightly-framed portrait with you.
 
The mechanics of taking pictures turned out to be an easy part of this series of images, with the ambient light working especially well. I've received a lot of positive comments from friends, with "Those are great photos!" being very common. The subject was of course largely responsible for these responses, but the ability of this lens to strongly blur the fall-colored background, making the subject pop, was another strong contributor to them. This lens, though not inexpensive, can do the same for photos of your own family, or for those for your clients.
 
The next time you have portraits planned for fall capture, look for trees that can provide a colorful background to your image. The color of the fall foliage should be complementary to your subject's clothing and the colorful trees should not steal the show from the primary subject, but especially when blurred, fall foliage can add a beautiful natural color to portrait backgrounds.
 
200mm  f/2.0  1/160s  ISO 320
Pink Coneflower with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Pink Coneflower with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
One of my favorite flowers bloomed while I was reviewing the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. I browsed the selection in the garden and clipped my favorite.
 
You have a Delta 1 Grip-It Single Arm with 1" Clamp in your kit, right? This flower's stem is clamped into the Delta Grip-It and the stand (with added adhesive rubber feet added) is positioned on a large rock in the shade with a distant, nicely-colored background. The dark green color is from trees and the brighter green color in the center of the frame is from grasses and weeds. Moving in to this lens's very short minimum focus distance, zooming to 200mm, and opening the aperture to f/5.6 (chosen over f/4 for slightly more depth of field) produced this attractive result.
 
200mm  f/5.6  1/60s  ISO 100
Young Girl Portrait Young Girl Portrait
A pleasant smile from a cute little girl.
 
85mm  f/1.2  1/1600s  ISO 100
Portrait of Three Girls Portrait of Three Girls
Getting three young girls to get into a reasonable position for their group portrait is not easy. Studio lighting is provided by Elinchrom Digital Style RX Monolights.
 
111mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
Girl in Motion Picture Girl in Motion Picture
A young girl stopped in fast motion.
 
300mm  f/2.8  1/2500s  ISO 400
Girl in Leaf Pile Picture Girl in Leaf Pile Picture
A little girl plays in a pile of leaves.
 
42mm  f/3.5  1/80s  ISO 400
Lifejacket Girl and the Caped Crusader Lifejacket Girl and the Caped Crusader
Two cute kids sit on rocks beside the lake.
 
70mm  f/4.5  1/125s  ISO 200
Swimming Picture Swimming Picture
Water pours from the back of this young swimmer.
 
135mm  f/4.5  1/1600s  ISO 160
1200mm Portrait 1200mm Portrait
A portrait shot at 1200mm. This was a clear day so I was using a manual expsoure. She was walking toward me, so I was using AI Servo AF and burst drive mode.
 
1200mm  f/5.6  1/1000s  ISO 250
A Girl and A Pony Picture A Girl and A Pony Picture
A little girl holds the reins to a just-the-right-size-for-her pony.
 
17mm  f/2.8  1/125s  ISO 200
Relaxing During Portrait Session Relaxing During Portrait Session
Keep your subjects relaxed even during formal portrait sessions. You will benefit from their enhanced expressions.
 
135mm  f/11.0  1/200s  ISO 100
A Little Girl in Sunglasses Picture A Little Girl in Sunglasses Picture
A little girls peers up behind her sunglasses.
 
55mm  f/2.8  1/125s  ISO 100
Merry-Go-Round Picture Merry-Go-Round Picture
A colorful motion blur of a little girl riding a Merry-Go-Round. Hopefully the picture does not make you dizzy. :)
 
17mm  f/13  1/13s  ISO 500
Little Girl 5 Little Girl 5
Light from an open door in a dark barn creates a strong contrast but a soft light.
 
55mm  f/2.8  1/100s  ISO 800
Portrait in the Grass Portrait in the Grass
This is a very easy pose to make your high school senior look great. Simply find some grass being lit by a late-day sun and have your senior take on this pose. The slightly tipped head causes her hair to flow nicely. The crossed bare feet are framed just to the side of her head – but not intersecting her hair line. The jeans form a border around most of her visible shirt.
 
This amazing lens with an f/2.8-selected aperture takes care of the rest.
 
180mm  f/2.8  1/250s  ISO 200
Young Girl Playing Dress-Up Young Girl Playing Dress-Up
The clearance rack at your local (cheap) formalwear store can be a great source for you portrait wardrobe. The kids spend hours playing with the dresses, but the best part is that they want to have their picture taken after putting on their finishing touches.
 
When using a wide angle lens, do not get too close to your subject. Perspective distortion can deform their pretty faces. But a wide angle advantage is that it is easier to work above your subject. In this case, getting over the subject allows the big dress to become the background.
 
This is an ambient window light portrait.
 
35mm  f/1.8  1/100s  ISO 320
Beach Sunset Portrait Beach Sunset Portrait
This is a casual portrait shot as the sun set over the US east coast. The setting sun delivers a warm-colored light onto the subject while a little natural vignetting and a blurred-by-f/2.8 background combine to draw the viewer's eye to the girl. ISO 100 would have been an even better choice for this shot, but the 1/1000 shutter speed was being used to capture fast action at the time.
 
200mm  f/2.8  1/1000s  ISO 200
Blue-Eyed Girl Portrait Blue-Eyed Girl Portrait
This cute little blue-eyed girl is posing just inside an open garage door. This is one of the easiest (and inexpensive) lighting methods for great results. Stand the subject just inside an opening (behind the direct sunlight) and shoot away.
 
200mm  f/2.8  1/100s  ISO 320
The Big Jump Picture The Big Jump Picture
A little girl makes a very artistic pose as she makes a big jump into the swimming pool. A 10fps burst was used for the shot - My favorite is shown.
 
170mm  f/2.8  1/2000s  ISO 100
Firsthand Example of Why Backup Gear is a Requirement for Wedding Photography Firsthand Example of Why Backup Gear is a Requirement for Wedding Photography
I advised my daughter and then-future son-in-law that something would go wrong with the wedding and that they should be ready to adjust plans as necessary.
 
What went wrong started with my youngest daughter waking up at 3:00 AM with a fever of 101.7° F (38.7° C) on the day before the wedding. I was so sad for her and expected the virus to have her in its grasp through the wedding day and beyond. Fortunately, after many prayers and sleeping much of the morning, she was feeling much better the same evening and was able to enjoy the wedding rehearsal and dinner afterwards.
 
That rehearsal dinner afterwards (at our house) became the next issue. The food was all out and everyone was ready to eat (and hungry), but ... the rolls needed to hold the main course were missing. Apparently an assignment was missed and a 40-minute round trip to the grocery store ensued, resolving this relatively minor issue.
 
As I mentioned, I was (mostly) not photographing this wedding, but received a request to "just" set up a video camera. I assembled the gear I intended to use (multiple cameras, tripods, mic, sound recorder, Pelican cases, extra batteries, etc.) the day before (amidst plenty of other chaos) and ran a gear check late in the day. I planned to use the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II as the primary camera, recording the entire ceremony in 4k. Strangely, when attempting to record video with this body, all I saw was black. After checking for an installed lens cap multiple times and verifying that live view worked in the still photo modes, I resolved to call Canon CPS in the morning, hoping that there was some obscure setting I had missed. Unfortunately, the phone call determined that the camera had a failure of some sort (I was not surprised by that news) that was preventing the shutter from opening in video mode.
 
So, it was wedding day for my daughter and the primary camera I intended to record video with had failed. This is the perfect example of why a backup camera is mandatory when photographing weddings and other important events.
 
I had a 4k-capable Sony a7 III with a Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, the focal length range I needed, sitting on my desk. That setup was untested, so I opted to double-record using a Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. I set up the two cameras immediately next to each other, one on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head and the other on a ProMediaGear TR344L Tripod with a UniqBall UBH 45X Ball Head.
 
A relative captured other video angles handheld using a Canon EOS 80D and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. Audio was recorded with a Tascam digital audio recorder positioned under the flowers near the pastor, on a Rode Stereo Video Mic mounted on the 5Ds R in the back (closer to some of the musicians) and in-camera on the other two cameras. The setups appear to have all worked great and there is plenty of audio and video available to assemble a nice edited movie.
 
While I had time to put together a revised camera setup prior to leaving for the wedding, that is not always the case with equipment failures. I had an additional camera and various accessories (including batteries) along to cover any on-site failures (OK, I had enough to cover any of the contracted photographer's equipment failures as well).
 
Then there was the tomahawk injury that required a trip to the medical center and 8 stitches on the groom's ankle on the morning of the wedding. Don't ask – but it involved fruit. I'll just say that there was little spring in the groom's step as he walked his bride down the aisle, but the wedding worked and I now officially have a son.
 
As I said, I was mostly not photographing the wedding, but ... the girls happened to be ready just before the official photographers arrived and I happened to have rolled paper on a background stand and two lights in softboxes (one large octagonal overhead, a medium-sized rectangle on the back/left) ready. I needed time to set up and dial in two more lights, including one on a boom, but with a very rushed schedule, I accepted a compromise.
 
Overall, the wedding was awesome. Thanks for sharing in my excitement!
 
70mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Checking Off Milestones: My Oldest Daughter, Brianna, is Getting Married Today Checking Off Milestones: My Oldest Daughter, Brianna, is Getting Married Today
Mostly, this post is to let you share in our excitement and that sentence probably caught your attention with many thoughts potentially entering your mind.
 
Perhaps for those of you following this site from the early days, it is hard to believe that she is that old. Yes, the years really do fly by (every year goes by faster). This image was captured in 2003, the year TDP showed up on the web:
 
Brianna at Age 7
 
And now, my baby has become a beautiful young lady.
 
While the girls are taking care of many of the wedding's fine details, I am also involved. One of the requests of me was to assemble a set of pictures suitable for use in a slide show. While gathering those, many great memories were brought back and, as you probably guessed, I had a solid selection to choose from.
 
While on that topic, heed my advice: now is when you need to spend time with your kids and of course, make them feel special by photographing them constantly (and giving them that reason why). Only photographs (and videos) can keep them that age forever. Capture your times together and all of the special moments. Grandparents, you are included here – you get to photograph the grandkids when that generation shows up (I look forward to that day).
 
Answering another common question: yes, we love the incoming son and look forward to him being an official part of the family (he's been hanging around for years already). With him and his great family joining our lives, all of the parent wish list boxes are being checked here.
 
I know, the first question you really wanted answered was "Are you photographing the wedding?" Well, the official answer is no – there are hired photographers for the event. But ... I just might have (a few cases of) gear stashed somewhere handy. You know – just in case!
 
Then came the "Oh, can you just set up a camera to video the wedding?"
 
In what seems a blink of an eye, the kid is grown and moving on with her life. Fortunately, she is not moving too far. And, we have plenty of pictures to look back on.
 
The lead image for this post is a recent one, commemorating college graduation. It was a cloudy day and light green spring colors were still on some of the trees. I positioned Brianna under the shade of a tall tree to gain some direction to the ultra-soft cloud-diffused light and aligned with a distant tree of interest in the background. At 200mm, the f/2 aperture turns the tree into an interesting blur of color and Brianna pops from the background. Due to the color of the background, my eyes struggled to properly recognize the right color balance this image but, in the end, I opted to use the black cap and gown for a custom white balance.
 
The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens is a killer portrait lens and it has captured some of my favorite portraits of the kids. This is not an inexpensive lens, but the results can be priceless.
 
The girls are due home from their hair appointments at any time – gotta go!
 
200mm  f/2.0  1/500s  ISO 100
The Kids The Kids
If you are planning to print/publish to a specific size, you need to be aware of how your camera's aspect ratio relates to that final size. Canon and Nikon's DSLRs currently have a 3:2 (width:height) sensor size ratio. Thus, an uncropped shot will make a perfect 4x6, 8x12, 16x24 ... (or any multiple of 3:2) print. A 5x7 print requires some cropping and an 8x10 requires even more cropping. This example crops very nicely to 5x7, but the cropping required for an 8x10 is a bit strong in my opinion.
 
93mm  f/11.0  1/160s  ISO 100
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