Sunday, August 18, 2013

8 Ways to Find Pretty Light (for Better Photos)

What's a great way to take better pictures? Finding great natural light! After learning to shoot in manual, learning to shoot with natural light is the next big thing to take your photography to the next level. Having a solid understanding of natural light is hands down more important than the kind of gear you have. So here's 8 ways to find pretty light for better photos...

1.  Shoot during the golden hour (before sunset)
They say the best natural light is the kind you'll find about 30 min. before sunset and after sunrise. This is the time when shadows are low and the light is soft. Anytime you shoot in this timeframe you'll find that colors are more vivid and details stand out more. The most significant trait of the golden hour is the warm, golden light being produced by sunset. In the summer you'll find it is even more golden. The photo example above was taken at one of our family reunions at sunset.

2. Shoot during early morning (at sunrise)
Early morning light is just as beautiful as the golden hour but with it's own characteristics. Since you don't have the golden hues from the sunset, you'll find that early morning light has more clarity. The colors are more true and have a slightly bluer tone. Because of this, many nature photographers believe that first morning light is the best light. The next two photos were taken very early in the morning.

3. Use backlight
You'll need to know how to shoot in manual to get the most out of backlight, but this type of light creates those dreamy images of soft light in pictures. It's also how you create silhouettes. Photos taken with true backlight will have a soft, romantic look to them. Because of the way the light softens the image you won't get totally sharp images in backlight situations when exposing for your subject. However it's that dreamy look that we're going for when we shoot backlight so that's totally okay.

4. Turn off flash
Unless you're shooting with multiple flash set ups, direct single "on camera" flash is really unflattering for photos. If you're not shooting in manual and you turn off your camera's flash you will most likely find that you get really bad, blurry photos! This has to do with shutter speed and the camera is usually choosing a slow shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light. This is one of the big reasons why it's so important to learn how to shoot in manual. Being able to change a few settings manually and turning off flash can make a BIG difference in your photography.

On-camera, direct flash.

Same photo with manual settings and no flash.

5. Use a reflector
If you find that you're not getting enough natural light on your subject, you can consider using reflectors to bounce back more light. White foam core board is great as a simple, inexpensive reflector. You can also buy reflectors at camera stores (they usually have both silver and gold sides.) I very rarely carry around reflectors because I'm lazy and can't be bothered. Instead I like to look for natural reflectors like white walls and concrete. These natural reflectors will bounce back more of that great light and help add an extra sparkle to your subject.

The following two photos were shot with the use of a reflector...

6. Shoot with even shade
If you find yourself in a situation where the light is really bright and harsh, seek out even shade. Even shade is cast from buildings, carports, etc. Anytime you shoot in even shade you minimize shadows while retaining the nice depth of detail and colors in your subject. Even shade has a tendency to be blue in color tone, so you might have to warm up your photos some in editing.

7. Shoot with window light
Windows! Gotta love places with lots of windows. Since the light is diffused when it filters in through windows, indoor window light is really great light. This is especially a great option if it's the middle of the day and the light is just harsh or if it's really too hot or too cold to comfortably shoot outside. You'll find that if you're at place with lots of windows (like an greenhouse type room at an aquarium) the pictures you can capture in that area will be even better than those where you had to shoot in just artificial light. So seek out window light - it's a great pretty light.

8. Shoot the seasons
Pretty light changes with the seasons and there's no better way to explore that light than with the seasons. Each season has it's own color tone, simply because of the natural colors at the time. If you're shooting in the fall and there's an abundant amount of gold, red, and orange leaves... yes you're photos will naturally have a golden color tone. Spring brings lots of new flowers and tender green grass, so we find that the colors of spring are crisp and pure. Summer has a lot of golden / green tones (depending on where you live) and winter mostly has more blue tones. Try shooting the same location throughout the seasons to see how the light changes.

So the next time you're out and about, try shooting just after sunrise, during the golden hour, shoot with window light, look for even shade and even use reflectors. Start a series of shooting the seasons, try shooting with backlight and turning off that flash.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

9 Ways to Find Your Photography Style

Style: what is it in photography? I bet many of you have your own style when it comes to fashion, decorating your homes, how you style your hair, etc. It's the stuff you love, right? Well style in terms of your photography is the same way.

How did I create this look and feel of my blog and photography? Totally simple... it's me! This is my personality reflected: I love bright colors, being crazy, having fun. I'm a minimalist, I love clean design. Naturally my shooting and editing style reflects who I am.

 So when it comes to finding your style in photography I feel that there are two different things that add up to style. First, there's the way you actually shoot and process your images. The lighting you use, the way you edit, how you style a shoot, what you shoot, the locations you choose. Then we have what really makes your style... and that's you! Personally I think being yourself is the most important thing - everything else just falls into place.

Ready to find your photography style? Here are 9 ways to jump start your style...

1. Shoot what you love
This is the reason we all started shooting in the first place. We shoot what we love. If you're working as a photographer and you shoot stuff that you don't like, stop shooting it. For example, I love kids and they love me and we click right away. But I don't have kids and I'm not used to working with them so when I started shooting I realized that I didn't really like to shoot kids. If your heart isn't in it, then don't shoot it.

The moment you start forcing yourself to like something and you just have to get through it that's the moment you start losing yourself.

2. Find inspiration
There's a fine line between getting inspired by someone's work and getting discouraged. This is so important to keep in mind when you're looking at other's work... do not compare yourself to them. This is bad ju-ju people! Trust me... been there, done that. It's one thing that can take an excited just-starting-out photog and make them quit. Seriously, don't do it.

Why? For one reason, skill level. Everyone starts somewhere. The photographers you admire probably have been shooting a lot longer than you. They also may be shooting with better and more expensive equipment. The most expensive lenses and the best quality glass you can buy produces fantastic photos but only if you have the skills to use it.

I can't say this enough - comparing your work to others is totally self defeating. Don't do it.

Instead get inspired by them and learn from their work. What makes their photos so amazing? Focus on that, work hard to achieve the look you want for your own photos. Never stop getting inspired by other photographers, other artists. Read books, paint, go to museums, listen to music, go to the theater, etc.

My favorite place is a modern art museum. Anytime I'm feeling in a creative funk it just makes my day. Another great thing to do is pin photos you love to Pinterest. Just remember to not get down on yourself because you're just starting out. You have to shoot a lot and really fine tune your skills to get there. Shoot all the time.

3. Be yourself
True style reflects who you are. It's what you love. It's how you see the world. Embrace the things that make you YOU.  Every one of us is unique. We have special skills, style and we all see things differently. No one can be you, so work it!

4. Find your editing niche 
How you edit your photos will further define your style. My editing style is bold, bright colors while keeping it real. I don't do a lot of editing for skin (the magazine model look) and really like to keep things how I see them. There's nothing wrong with editing photos with ultra smooth skin, it's just not my style. Other photographers love the vintage look, dreamy, golden colors, etc. When it comes to editing it will take time to figure out what you like best.

5. Work with the light
Are you a natural light photographer? Do you love to use a lot of off camera flashes? How you approach lighting in your photography again will help define your style. Photographers who love the high end fashion look usually add external flashes to their shots. It really gives them this glossy, edgy fashion style. I love shooting with natural light and I really hate flash so I only use flash if I absolutely have to - and that personal preference helps define my style.

6. Reflect on what you love
Make a list of stuff that makes you happy... think about your favorite things, any hobbies you have, favorite colors. Your personality comes into play as well - so jot down words that describe you. Pick a subject or two from your list and get out there with your camera, seek out these things, shoot for yourself and explore your personal style.

7. Fine tune your posing and styling
Another element that lends to your photography style is how you pose and style your photos. There are photographers who do micro posing meaning they pose every single thing, from the tip of someone's chin to the way they tilt their head just right. We could never stand being posed like that (it made us so uncomfortable and we looked awful) so when we started shooting our style was a casual type of posing. Starting to see a pattern here? Our preferences and what we love dictates how we shoot. You might find that you prefer a purely photo journalistic approach with no posing. Or you might like to mix candid shots with casually posed portraits. You might want to keep things real or set up styled shoots. What you choose is up to you and will add up to your developing style.

8. Get those technical skills down
If there's one thing that comes between you and finding your style it's not knowing how to use your camera. How can you have more fun and get really creative when you and your camera are always fighting? You want to take a silhouette picture. The camera wants to use flash. You turn off the flash. The camera just makes a blurry photo. Learning to shoot in manual and really boss your camera around is the best thing you can do for your photography (that and mastering light!)

9. Your style will evolve, run with it! 
Never forget, your style is completely organic. It is always changing and evolving into a new style. This is especially true as your priorities and goals change in life. You may have a young child and now enjoy taking family photos. Your love of cooking may have branched into sewing as well. Your style will constantly change and it's okay to embrace this change.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

8 Ways to Make Your Photography POP!

I've had so many people ask me how I get my photography to pop with bright colors and just really stand out. There are different elements of photography that add up to great images (shooting in big apertures, strong composition and design for starters) but here are 8 ways you can make your own photography pop.

1. Shoot with the best quality natural light
Hands down this is the most important thing for making your pictures pop! Learning to shoot with the best quality natural light makes a huge difference in your photography. It's more important than the kind of camera you use or the lenses you have. You can have the most expensive gear and still not get great photos if you don't know how to find the best light. Amazing natural light makes complexions glow, colors pop and details look fantastic.

2. Shoot in manual
You might get lucky and take plenty of pictures with great light but at some point you'll fight with your camera to get what you want. For that reason learning to shoot in manual and properly control your camera is a major thing for making your pictures pop. You won't get great pictures if your camera makes the shutter speed super slow (aka blurry photos) or it keeps wanting to turn on the flash (on camera flash = yuck.) Life is just easier and you can be so much more creative with your photography if you can show your camera who's boss.

3. Add a reflector
Give eyes a little more sparkle and help boost that great quality natural light by using a reflector. You can purchase collapsable reflectors (in silver and gold) to carry with you. I'm not a big fan of carrying a bunch of crap, so I love to look for natural reflectors like the concrete in the photo above. It's naturally reflecting lots of great light back.

Another easy tip is to wear a white shirt. Yes, when you're shooting pretty close to your subject that white will reflect light back into their eyes and give them a great sparkle. Of course I rarely wear white but it does work. Using a reflector isn't 100% necessary for getting your photos to pop but in certain situations they really help. Can't afford a reflector? Just purchase some inexpensive white foam board.

4. Use actions
Shooting with the best natural light makes your photos amazing and using editing will help really make them shine. My favorite is using actions in Photoshop - specifically Totally Rad Actions. You can even make your own "recipes" of actions put together and do a batch edit on your photos. Totally Rad also offers RadLab for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. I haven't tried it myself but I hear it rocks. However be sure to check that you have the right program version before getting RadLab.

5. Bump that saturation
Don't want to invest in actions at this time? Make simple adjustments by bumping the saturation level. It's best to use a layer mask so you can highlight only the areas you want to be more colorful. That way you can bump the saturation of the purple wall a bit but not make the people look crazy weird.

6. Adjust curves
Another great way to make photos pop instead of using actions is adjusting the curves level in editing. A few tweaks here and there and you've got just the right amount of oomph to make those photos shine.

7. Invest in quality lenses
Remember, the most important thing to making your photos pop is great quality natural light. That being said if you have the funds and can invest in quality lenses that is just another great thing to make your photography even better. Granted your fantastic new uber expensive lenses won't do a thing for you if you don't know how to shoot in manual, find that light, and master focus. But if you do then they really make a big difference. Colors will be more bold and true to life, images more crisp. The best sharpness is achieved through the best glass. Once you shoot with expensive glass the other lenses pale in comparison. BUT remember, master your beginner photography skills first. You can still take amazing photos without the most expensive lenses. Work your way up to them.

8. Shoot full frame
Just like quality lenses, a full frame camera won't do you any good if you don't know how to use it. All beginner cameras including the "kits" that you buy come with a crop body camera, meaning it has a smaller sensor. This = less expensive gear which for obvious reasons is why they are for beginners. Eventually you may want to work your way up to purchasing a full frame camera. Full frame means the sensor is like a 35mm sensor, it's the whole enchilada. Basically no information is lost. Colors are even more vivid, images are awesome and lenses are used to their full capability.

Even so, quality lenses are hands down more important than the camera body. But once you get to that point and you're ready to jump to full frame, do it! After shooting full frame, crop body cameras just won't be the same. When we upgraded from our Canon 40Ds to our 5D Mark IIs we never touched the 40Ds again.

Remember the most important thing for making your pictures pop is shooting with great light + shooting in manual. After that it's all rainbows and unicorns!