Archive for July 23rd, 2008

If you didn’t make it to the Photography Session at BlogHer 08 this year, I wanted to make sure you got the Cliff Notes! Try some of these tips out and you’ll see your blog photos shine even brighter! We’ll start somewhat easy, get a little more technical and then end easy. :)

1. Define Emotion: When trying to decide if an image should be black and white vs color, ask yourself if b/w will help define the emotion. Sidenote: Brian and I shoot every thing in color and in RAW format. We don’t use the presets in the camera for b/w images. We make all those changes after the shoot in post process.

Example: I love this fun shot of dad and his boys. But when we see it in black and white, I feel like the emotion on dad’s face is much more defined.

2. Fill the Frame: Think about the Third’s Principle and Make Sure Your Background has Purpose

If you were to break your frame into thirds, is every third filled with something that accentuates the story of the photo? The story of the photo above is really about Blaze and his curiosity, where I decide to place Blaze (in what third of the picture frame) makes a big difference. I like his curiosity poking out from the bottom corner. This subject of framing, composition and the Third’s Principle is also covered in more depth on our DVD 1, Refuse to Say Cheese!

3. Less is More: See if you can capture a shot without any facial expressions, yet still have strong emotion. Brian is the master at this!

4. How Blurry Do You Want Your Background? The lower your aperture/fstop, the more blur in your background. The image below was shot at a 2.8 fstop. Check your lens to see how low your fstop will go. To enjoy the blur effect, you are going to want a lens that drops down to 2.8 or even lower.

Portrait Mode (the lady’s head icon) is essentially giving you a lower aperture automatically. But you can have fun and take control by switching to Aperture Priority Mode. This means you pick the degree of blur (by picking your fstop) and the camera decides the shutter speed for you. The subject of aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all covered in depth on DVD 2, Beyond the Green Box!

5. How Low Can You Go with Your ISO? The lower your ISO, the better your color saturation.

The image above was at a 100 ISO during “sweet light”. Sweet Light is that time of night when the sun has just set and the sky is the bluest it will ever be during the night (lasts about 15-20 minutes). Brian shot this using a tripod, low ISO, higher aperture for more detail instead of blur and a shutter speed that stayed open for 4-5 seconds. This example is a night shot, but we try to shoot at a 100 ISO whenever possible, day or night.

6. AI Servo is the Secret for Swinging! If you want shots of your kids on the swing or riding bikes, try your AI Servo setting because it will lock focus on your subject if they are moving toward you or away from you. For photo examples, go back to the Training Wheels post! These photos were all shot in AI Servo mode. Or here is a favorite wedding example.

7. No-nonsense Tips to Flash Lighting! The secret to using an external flash is where you point your flash head (yep, it moves. :)). As Brian would say, “Think of holding a super ball and wanting to hit your subject in the head with it. What wall should you throw your super ball against so that it bounces back and hits the subject in the face?” (Isn’t that great of Brian. That’s what he’s thinking when taking pictures of a bride! How can I hit her in the face with a super ball!) :)

Example #1: This is from the other night and the flash is pointing right at Pascaline and Blaze. See those nasty shadows around them and the black cave effect behind them? Yuck! Blaze looks like someone took charcoal from the fireplace and blew it on him.

Example #2: I took my flash head and instead of pointing it at them, I pointed it straight up at the ceiling. The effect is better, but I don’t usually like to bounce off the ceiling because of the shadows it can create under the eyes. You can see how it accentuates dark circles under her eyes, but it is way better than Example #1. Yet, we can get even better!

Example #3: Brian loves to aim his flash head off to the side with a slight tilt. He’s aiming that “super ball” where the wall meets the ceiling. Does that make sense? It brings back a nice side lighting that can look similar to lamp light or window light. Ohhhh, that is way better!

Example #4: This one is my favorite way to use a flash. I like to turn the flash head and point it straight behind me. The only downside is people will tell me all night at a wedding reception that my flash is backward. :) But the upside is that I get this wonderful, flattering light on the subject’s face. AND, no shadows friends!! What a difference between Example #1 and #4!

Recipe settings for using an external flash? We often have our ISO at 800, our Shutter Speed at 1/60 or 60th of a second and Aperture around 4.5-5.6 (depending on the shot). Try it out at home. External flash is WAY easier than you would ever think! You can totally do this!

8. Play, play, play with your Shutter Speed. If you need more available light then slow your shutter speed down. If you need less light speed it up. The key is to stop feeling intimidated by your camera and just play. Mistakes are necessary when getting better at photography. The subject of Shutter Speed and shooting in Manuel is talked about a lot more in DVD 2, Beyond the Green Box, with exercises for you to try too!

If I speed the Shutter Speed up on this image, then there is less light. If I slow the Shutter Speed down there is more light and you would probably see less and less of the outdoor furniture behind Pascaline.

9. Three Keys to Post Process for Me Ra and Brian…I keep it simple because I don’t have a lot of time to spend in Photoshop. I may apply actions, but at the very least I do these three things.

#1 Add Contrast

#2 Decide if image should be BW or stay in Color

#3 Add a soft vignette around the outer edges. The vignette setting is easy to use in Lightroom.

10. Pick ONE Tip at a Time. Every year Brian and I pick on thing to work on. One year it was working on improving our color images because most of us see in color so how can we make a color image stand out even more? One year, we focused on Off Camera Lighting.

Remember, one thing at a time. Otherwise you get overwhelmed and miss out on how much fun photography is.

Mistakes are necessary when getting better at photography–mistake away!!

Where to go and what to do if you want more photography exercises and tips?

We cover these subjects and much, much more in depth at our workshops. Chicago has a couple spaces left if you are in the area, and we may open one up for early December too! (are there still December takers? if so, email me at

Can’t make it to a workshop? You can check out the DVDs mentioned above. We get amazing feedback every week from people watching our DVDs and trying out the exercises! Sidenote: We realized late last night that our website host didn’t tell us it had updated things in our shopping cart. This means that since last Wed no one has been able to finalize a purchase. BROTHER! No wonder the sales were not happening, it seemed unusual but you know how you get busy with stuff and then leaving for San Fran, we totally forgot. Anyway, such is life. We poured ourselves a glass of wine and got to the bottom of the issue. All fixed now–for real! :)

Want a free option? You can check out all the Photography Tips for Moms that I’ve posted! There are over 102 posts in that category so have fun!! And don’t forget to send me some of your results!


New deadline for WATER photo contest is Monday, July 28th at midnight PST.

To enter our new Photo Contest for July, send your image as an attachment to The theme is Water. Any thing that has to do with water is welcome!

Fatherhood Finalist will be announced this week! (refresh Lauren, refresh! :))

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