The dark art of concert photography.

By Sarah Arnold, QA

I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. I grew up in a family of musicians, one of whom toured the world in the sixties. Being drawn to concert photography was only natural for me as music was such a vital part of our family. I loved feeling the music through my feet and eventually through my fingertips while photographing the musicians on stage. Starting at the age of 14, concert photography has become a large part of my photography business. I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years through huge amounts of trial and error. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that can be useful to anyone just getting started in concert photography.

Getting in

Don’t be shy. The majority of the concerts I’ve shot, I’ve walked straight up to the band and asked them directly, “Would you mind if I take photos?” 99% of the time, they are excited a photographer is interested and have absolutely no problem saying yes. You have to be a bit of reporter when trying to track down the band. I usually find where they’re located backstage or wait until they are on stage setting up and simply approach them. In many cases, I’ve ended up becoming friends with the band members and am given stage passes as well as put on the guest list for future shows. Stage passes are key for great shots of the crowd and band interaction. These shots are usually the ones bands use for marketing purposes, which in turn can bring a lot of traffic to your site when the band gives you proper credit. This brings up a very important rule: ALWAYS make sure the band is giving you credit when they post your photos. ALWAYS. This can be a verbal or written agreement via email. You can also draft a quick and simple photo session agreement before releasing photos to the band.

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Want this shot? You’re gonna need a stage pass!

Plan ahead. Some concert venues require permission from the venue as well as the band, sometimes as much as three weeks prior to the event. In such cases, reaching out to the location on social media is a good way to start. Mention that you’re a photographer, share some previous concert galleries you’ve photographed, and tell them you would love their permission to photograph at their venue. Persistence is key in this case. Follow up with them if you don’t hear back. Not hearing back from the band manager? Try reaching out to individual members of the band. Still not hearing anything? Reach out to other bands in the line-up. Ask if they would like your photography services. Even if you don’t get approval from the headliner, you can still shoot for the opening bands. They can report their experience back to the headliner and, in the future, you’re more likely to get approval once they’ve seen what you’re made of!
Get official. When shooting for festivals, the best approach is to start at their official website. They usually have a “media” section where you can request to be part of their media team. This process can be a bit more picky. You must have a concert portfolio and usually they require a list of all the gear you own and plan to bring. Most of the time you’re signing a contract saying they have full rights or “own” your work, but you’ll get attribution for the shots you’ve taken. The bigger the band, the more likely they are to take full rights from you — meaning you can’t sell the photos. If this is the case, make sure you’re being compensated properly. Keep in mind you won’t be making money selling prints and digital downloads. Calculate this into your final price so you’re walking away happy and not feeling taken advantage of.

Gear up, Buttercup

The bare necessities.

Concert halls by nature are dark, making low-light lenses a necessity. The lower the aperture, the better (f/2.8 and below) because the lens opens up wider, allowing more light to reach the sensor. This means you can get away with using lower ISOs, minimizing the graininess of your photos. You’ll still need a faster ISO setting given the lighting, approximately 1000 to 2000 in order to not get too much movement. A shutter speed of 1/50 of a second is the lowest you should set your camera to when shooting drummers and other band members who are likely moving very quickly.

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Don’t let graininess overshadow the emotion you’re capturing.

Don’t get flashy, kid.

Whether it’s natural spot lighting or a colorful light show, concerts have unique lighting systems. Usually the stage lighting used produces a much more natural capture, while flash can distract the musicians during their performance and can interfere with the experience for those involved. A good rule of thumb is to refrain from using a flash. It won’t add anything to your photos that the stage lighting isn’t already providing for you.

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Say yes to starbursts and no to flash.

Beware the spots.

When relying on stage lighting, you have to be careful that your shutter speed isn’t TOO fast. Lights pulsate in a way that the eye can’t see, but the camera can. So you don’t end up with spotted lighting, a slightly longer exposure will allow the sensor to have full light on the entire band. When I shoot concerts, I tend to have my camera set to aperture priority. This way I ensure I stay at the lowest aperture and don’t miss capturing key moments while adjusting the manual settings thanks to constantly changing light.

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Streaking is only fun in college, not in concert photography.

Get the shot!

Framing.

Details, details, details. Bands love getting close-up shots of each member working their craft and playing their instrument like a pro. One shot I love to capture is where you can see every single band member’s face. This can be tough given all the equipment on stage, the placement of the drums, band member movements, etc. But getting a full shot of the entire band is a money maker. Some of my favorite shots are when the band members interact with each other. It shows a bit of fun and the relationship that the band has with each other.

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Forget cowbell, 2016 is the year of the tambourine.

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I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.

Location.

Moving around is key. You want to get entire venue shots showing the band and the concert attendees from behind, as well as those awesome detail shots taken from the front of the stage. The bigger the band, the more likely the front of the stage will be crowded and difficult to navigate. Staying in one place is easier, but you’ll miss some great shots. Usually if you show concert-goers your camera, they’ll move out of your way to allow you to change location. This is another example where having a stage pass comes in handy. You can skip the crowds by being directly on the stage.

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Sold-out crowd = visual bragging rights.

Nail that action!

Overshooting is better than undershooting. Capturing those hair tossing, spit-screaming moments can be tough, so I have my camera on multi-shot mode when I anticipate some action is about to happen. Within four or five shots, there’s usually that golden moment that results in a perfect action shot. Watch the musicians and their mannerisms. Is the singer highly animated? Does the bassist toss their hair around? Capture that! They make for great photos. I love watching drummers because they usually have great facial expressions and use every muscle in their body to keep beat. Watch for band members jumping around. Air shots are fun to capture and fans love buying them.

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All about that bass.

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Capturing character and the beat.

When the curtain closes.

Fix it in post!

Since you’ll be using higher ISOs, graininess will be inevitable. When editing with Lightroom, I use a tad bit of “Noise Reduction” > “Luminance.” This makes a surprisingly huge difference in the amount of grain that appears within your images without making the image look too doctored.

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The only noise in the photo should be the band.

Don’t sell yourself short.

I get paid for my work in a variety of ways. Sometimes the band and I have agreed to a price before the concert (which is usually an hourly rate since one set is typically an hour). However, a lot of the time, I’m showing up to a concert where the band doesn’t know me and I’m trying to get my foot in the door and need to show them what I’m made of. In this case, I bring business cards and let them know their photos will be available for purchase on my website.

Share the wealth!

This is where the beauty of SmugMug comes into play. With SmugMug, I can set up a gallery to show up on a map. Band members can use this map to locate their event and view their galleries. It’s also where they can purchase downloads or prints, and share the gallery on social media for their fans to purchase from as well. Using watermarks and a right-click message, I make sure my work is protected from theft. These features have helped my business grow in such an unexpected way. Thanks to SmugMug, I can shoot for strangers and sell my work without having to meet them or get any of their information in advance.

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No “Where’s Waldo” here!

Encore.

The dark art of concert photography can truly be a vividly beautiful experience. Whether you’re photographing a large festival or just checking out your local band, you can learn so much about your camera, how to interact with big clients, and how to market your business. Follow my tips and you’ll drastically improve your results and how you connect with the artists on stage. What are some of your experiences in concert photography? What bands would you like to shoot? I would love to hear in the comments below!

Check out more concert photos by Sarah Arnold here.

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Play us out, Sam.

 

 

 

Shedding Light on Outdoor Portraits of People in Glasses

By Alexandria Huff

Alexandria Huff is a Marketing Coordinator for BorrowLenses.com, where she is also the resident lighting guru. Visit her website to find more lighting tutorials, discounts on classes and camera gear, plus view her collection of chiaroscuro-style closeup studio portraits. She can be reached on LinkedIn and followed on Instagram.

In my Glare Aware Series, I cover the basics of avoiding lighting glare in photography. To recap, the following are essential lighting laws for working with reflective surfaces:

  • Broad Lighting vs Short Lighting

Short lighting is when your light is primarily illuminating the angle of the face that is far from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is mostly illuminating the angle of the face that is close to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting. To learn more, see  Glare Aware Part 1.

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  • Position Lights Outside the Family of Angles

Placing your lights at acute angles in reference to the subject (90º or less – think of on-camera flash as being 0º) is generally bad for glass and placing lights at obtuse angles (greater than 90º) is generally good. To learn more see Glare Aware Part 2.

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  • Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

For the most part, light travels in a straight line. If you position your light toward glass at a 45º angle, the reflection will be apparent in your image if your camera is also positioned at 45º on the opposite side. To learn more, see  Glare Aware Part 3.

These tips are well suited for controlled environments – studios and homes. When you step outside the comfort of a room, the lighting laws are a little less clear. After frequent requests, I am sharing a few of my go-to tricks for troubleshooting stubborn eyeglass reflections when shooting outside.

Combating Glare in Eyeglasses for Outdoor Portraits

Shooting subjects wearing eyeglasses outdoors poses particularly vexing problems. It can be really hard to eliminate all direct reflections coming from pavement, the sky, and other shiny objects that are out of your control.

Some articles suggest that your subject either remove their glasses (not always an option) or that you should choose a different environment or optimal time of day to shoot in. It is good to know what to do even in adverse conditions, however. Here are three things I did to reduce glare while shooting glasses outside on a very bright day near a home with plenty of reflective objects. Practice these to improve your skills and reduce panic when troubleshooting these problems during a live shoot.

Tip #1: Absorb Reflections with a Black Flag

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Black objects produce little diffuse reflection and do not scatter light like white objects. Using a black flag (as part of a scrim or reflector kit) will reduce reflections coming from our subject’s glasses. It also acts as camouflage for your camera when shooting directly into a subject with glasses.

Black will also absorb light so expect to lose a stop of exposure. Use exposure compensation or bump exposure in post production. If you’re shooting RAW, you’ll have a lot of latitude to adjust exposure while editing.

Tip #2: Fill Reflections with Artificial Lighting

Strobes are used outdoors to “overpower the sun,” which is a method of intentionally underexposing your ambient light and using artificial light on the subject to compensate. You can also use strobes to overpower reflections.

In tip #1, I filled my reflective object with a light-absorbing black flag. Now I am using an opposite approach by filling the reflective object with light. Light reflects off shiny surfaces at about the same angle as they are struck. Position your light so that the reflection is reasonably predicted to fall away from your lens. Make sure your light is close enough to your subject to fill the surface of the eyeglasses. The eyeglasses, as a whole, are now brighter and the light obscures the specular, distracting reflections of your environment.

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Tip #3: Change the Angle of the Reflective Object

In any shoot, there are three positions that can be adjusted to avoid glare:

  • The position/angle of your light.
  • The position/angle of your model.
  • Your shooting position.

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Unless you’re using strobes, changing the position of your light outdoors is hard – especially if you’re constrained by when and where you have to shoot since you’re depending on the sun. Your subject can tilt their head at certain angles, upward or downward, to reduce eyeglass reflections but these positions aren’t always flattering. If you find yourself in this rut, tilting the eyeglasses themselves helps.

As with head angle, tilting glasses isn’t always flattering. It depends on the shape of the glasses, how long the subject’s hair is, etc. Your mileage may vary.

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Bonus Tips

Bonus #1: Telephoto Lenses

Lens distance matters. A longer lens is going to produce a smaller viewing angle than a wide one. Smaller viewing angles cause fewer direct reflections than larger ones.

Bonus #2: Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters manage reflections coming from most non-metallic surfaces but you also lose stops of light and a certain natural reflectance of skin that can leave your subject looking flat overall. Experiment accordingly.

Bonus #3: Photoshop

Getting it right in-camera will save you time and hassle afterward. But not everything always goes to plan.

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Sometimes, a personal favorite shot just doesn’t quite ever get the right blend of good posing plus proper glare-avoiding angles. You can resort to Photoshop for these times. It is a tool like anything else.

Add your own bonus tips for overcoming difficult reflection situations when shooting outdoors in the comments below. Be sure to check out the rest of the Glare Aware Series:

Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare

Bouncing Off the Walls: Lighting, Glare, and Shadows When Photographing Interiors

SmugMug’s 2015 survival guide for holiday photos and gift giving.

The holidays are fast approaching, and soon we’ll all be deep into the holiday shopping madness. Here’s SmugMug’s 2015 Survival Guide for Holiday Photos and Gift Giving! Do all your shopping from the comfort of your SmugMug account. Upload once—and send joy around the world.

Get ready to make a lasting impression. Whether you’re creating photo gifts for yourself, or a pro photographer looking to wow your clients, prints make perfect—and lasting—gifts. They’re personal, they stop time and make lasting memories, and they can be larger than life.

So, how do you go about making prints with all the great photos you’re displaying on SmugMug?

Start by selecting the photos you want to print. Once you’ve got your photos uploaded to SmugMug, it’s easy to add any image to the cart. One-stop shopping at its finest—just click that BUY button to get started. You don’t have to decide on the size of print or quantities just yet. There’s opportunity to adjust the items added to your cart later.

Once you select a photo, click the BUY button and choose a product category.
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Ordering is a breeze on desktop or mobile.

Tip: If the photos you want to print or turn into gifts are scattered throughout several galleries on your SmugMug site, you can gather them all together into a single gallery using the Collect tool or by setting a Smart Gallery ruleThat way, when it’s time to place your order, you can work from inside a single gallery on your site.

Consider the type of print you want to give. You’ve got four different paper types to choose from: Glossy, Matte, Lustre (the choice for portraits), and Metallic (particularly suitable to high-contrast scenes). You’ve got multiple standard, square, and panoramic print sizes at your fingertips. And, for that extra special someone, there are ready-to hang items such as box framed prints and mounted canvases.

Make sure your photos are ready for the spotlight. For you high-tech types, we’ve got all the nitty-gritty details you could ask for to prepare your photos for printing. BUT, rest assured that if you’re a low-/no-tech person, our great print labs will do the heavy lifting for you. All our labs offer a color correction service so your photos will be the best print that they can be.

Go beyond paper prints and wall art. There are great personalized gifts available from your SmugMug account as well. We’ve got mugs, puzzles, magnets, buttons, and much more.

Turn your photos into holiday cards. Send end-of-year wishes to family and friends by creating original cards right from your SmugMug photos. Choose between 5×7 folded and 4×8 flat varieties on beautiful heavyweight card stocks.

Make sure you order in time so your gift arrives on time. Check our shipping dates calendarand don’t forget that your prints and photo gifts need time to process as well as ship.

Perhaps our best gift suggestion (and we’re probably a little biased here)… Why not share your love of SmugMug with the people you love by Giving the Gift of SmugMugThis one’s great for last-minute gifts, and it’s guaranteed not to be re-gifted.

Happy Holidays from your friends at Smugmug.

How to Become the Neighborhood Sensation with Halloween Photos

By Chris MacAskill, SmugMug co-founder
Years ago we faced a Halloween dilemma: do we just pass out Snickers bars and bore everyone? Scatter a few plastic skeletons and cobwebs like everyone else? Enter an arms race with the guy a few blocks away who spends days turning his house into a Hollywood Horror Show? Where does he even store all that stuff?

Instead, we set up some lights on the driveway and shot photos:

The thing is, Smartphone cameras don’t do well in the dark.  So parents bus their kids to our neighborhood to get their annual Halloween photos:

Even the cool kids need to score Instagram likes:

Here are some things I’ve learned from 7 years and thousands of photos:

  1. The Big Thing is to have a Very Big Light front and center.  I am usually on knees or bum, and the Very Big Light is above me.  I use a 60-inch softbox.  One reason for a big light in the center is that, on zero notice, Very Big Groups will form:

The big, centered light keeps some faces from being lost in the shadows.  And it casts very soft, flattering light that adults love.

  1.  Get a very wwiiiiiddddee backdrop.  I chose black because, well, Halloween.  Black anything will do: bedsheets, paper, whatever.  You can move it back from the subjects far enough that it’s really black and is never seen in photos.

This is what happens when the group is too big for the backdrop:

  1.  Knee pads.  Ow, my knees.  I like to get the camera down to the children’s level.

  1.  There will be witches, Darth Vader, and black-hatted villains.  If you can add a flash or two behind and to the side, you’ll actually be able to see black costumes and hair without them blending into the backdrop.

  1.  Smoke!  Smoke machines are cheap on Amazon and just a few puffs add a bit of awesome:

  1.  A zoom lens.  I love prime lenses and wide apertures for dreamy shallow depth of field.  But during Halloween, you’ll shoot a small child dressed as a pumpkin and 30 seconds later you’ll shoot a large group of teens.  I use a 24-105.
  1. JPEG, not RAW.  I set my white balance for the flash and it never varies.  I set my exposure at manual because the camera will give different exposures for people in white versus people in black if I try auto exposure.  There’s no issue with dynamic range, so RAW only slows everything down but doesn’t improve quality in this case.
  1.  Tether!  I use Lightroom to display the JPEGs on a monitor as I shoot them.  It’s great entertainment for people in line.  And when people see the photos, they’re sold on your photo booth.
  1.  Hand-out cards to tell your fans where they can download their photos.  I send them to http://halloween.smugmug.com.

Have an amazing time!  It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

How to Photograph Your Kids

This famous mom photographer shares her secrets.

Last year, Elena Shumilova took photos of her sons as they played in the Russian countryside. She uploaded the photos online, then they started getting shared, and shared again… until they became a viral sensation, with over 60 million views.

These photos hit something magical all across the Internet — a sense of nostalgia for a childhood past. She even started getting letters from people in their nineties, saying the photos moved them to tears.

As parents, we instinctively want to take photos of our kids. We’re trying to preserve this brief slice of time before they grow up. But when we take our kids to professional photo studios, the results can end up looking stilted and unnatural.

We want to remember our kids as they actually are — not with the forced smile a stranger coaxed out of them at the studio, but with the real smiles and giggles they share with us every day.

How can we capture natural photos of our kids, the kind Elena seemingly has a magic touch for?

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Elena has mostly been quiet since her photos have gone viral, undistracted by all the media attention. Instead, she focuses on raising her kids and continues to photograph them every day.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Given how quiet Elena has been, we’re excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at her in action. She invited us onto her farm in Russia, where we asked her to share how she captures these beautifully nostalgic photos.

This is what she had to say.

5 Tips to Get Better Photographs of Your Kids

by Elena Shumilova

Watch a video of Elena demonstrating these tips.

1. How to get your kids to look natural, not “posed.”

So you catch your kids in the perfect moment — they’re outside playing and laughing, the lighting is just right, and you see this perfect picture you want to capture. You rush to get out your camera, but then…

They see the camera. They stiffen up. They start posing. The moment is lost.

What do you do?

When photographing children, the single most important thing is to photograph them often — every day.

You can’t just do it sporadically, or they’ll freeze up as soon as the camera comes out. Consistency is key. That way they’ll be comfortable around the camera.

It’s these everyday scenes that you want to capture — the ones you’ll remember best when they grow up.

 

To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.

Here they’re playing “airplanes,” a game we also play together at lunchtime when they’re feeling picky about their food.

Watch Elena explain how she captures her nostalgic photos:

2. The types of clothes that work the best.

I follow a pretty simple rule: clothes shouldn’t be distracting. They shouldn’t take attention away from what’s happening in the photo.

 

For such a simple rule, it’s harder to follow than you might think. Kids’ clothes today are designed to grab your attention—with bright colors, cartoon characters, and writing all over them. In photographs, all this takes attention away from your kids.

When I started pursuing photography seriously, I actually replaced all their outfits. This took quite a while to do, but now I know that anything I pull from their closet won’t interfere with the photo.

3. How to best capture kids of different ages.

Newborns
A lot of parents have asked me about this photo — how did you get your one-month-old to look so calm? Infants are notoriously difficult to photograph because they’re often crying or fidgeting.

Here you’ll have an advantage as a parent. I’m his mom. I’m around him 24 hours a day, and I know when he cries and when he doesn’t. Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.

The Golden Age: Ages 2–4
Something I noticed while photographing many children, including my own, is that there seems to be a universal age when kids are the most photogenic.

That seems to happen between ages two and four.

Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.

They aren’t yet self aware. And so, they’re free.

Ages 5 and Older
It gets a bit more difficult when they’re older. As early as age five, they start to become more self-conscious when the camera comes out. They start to pose.

The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

4. How to get good photos of your kids with pets.

Just like people, every animal is different. Some pets like to be photographed, and others don’t.

Because every pet is different, there isn’t a magic formula for this. I spend hours observing our farm animals, figuring out how they move and what angles work best for them — just like I would for people.

I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws. So I’ve learned the hard way not to feed our pets during photo shoots.

With animals, you have to rely on a bit of luck — and constant patience.

5. Don’t give up.

This is the most famous photo I’ve taken. It’s been viewed over 10 million times — but I almost didn’t bring my camera that day.

Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures.

I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.

But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.

This dog of ours is now famous — but he’s not all that photogenic from most angles. He’s actually a pretty difficult dog to work with. From the previous 14 photo shoots, I’d learned what angles and body compositions work for him and my son.

It‘s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think, “Oh, why bother, it won’t work anyway.” And it may not for the first 14 times. Those 14 photo shoots weren’t failures though, because I learned from them. And they’re what made the fifteenth one possible.

Don’t give up.

For when you get frustrated.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

When I was first starting out, I got frustrated easily. I used to create these elaborate setups — I’d bring my kids to a special place, in special clothes, at a special time with the lighting just right. I’d arrange it all. And naturally, I started to feel like they owed me a good photo.

But I started getting better photos when I realized: no one owes me anything.

If you get frustrated, your kids will sense it and won’t want to participate anymore. Which just creates a vicious cycle of more frustration. When I stopped feeling entitled to a good photo, I was more relaxed. It was more fun for me and for them.

Rather than creating high-pressure elaborate setups, observe your kids in everyday simple situations. Do it every day. Bring your camera along.

And then — when the right moment comes along — you’ll be ready.

See more of Elena’s photos on her SmugMug print site.

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  • Contact press@smugmug.com
  • You may republish this on your publication (please credit & link back)

Watch Elena demonstrate these tips.

8 Rules to Remember That Make More Powerful Portraits

Valentine’s Day is rolling up, which means portrait photographers are aiming to capture beautiful clients looking their best. But even if you simply want to learn to take better, more powerful portraits, here are a few tips from expert portrait photographer, Alexandria Huff As the photographic brain behind the On Creating ChiaroscuroGlare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses, and Transitioning from Point-and-Shoot to DSLR: Understanding Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors, she’s well qualified to share these 8 essential rules no portrait photographer should ever forget. 

By Alexandria Huff
There are no rules in photography. There are, however, good habits that photographers rely on when they need to quickly capture a solid image. These habits are especially important when shooting for clients rather than just for personal projects.

1) Items in the foreground will look bigger/fatter/wider than the rest.

Keep extremities away from the foreground unless you’re going for that exaggerated look. Even the elbows in the second image are too far forward for my taste.

We get fixated on faces when shooting portraits and sometimes forget about what the rest of the body is doing. Keep hands, feet, and anything else you don’t want looking too bulbous further away from the camera.

2) Cutting off hands, feet, and foreheads can ruin visual flow.

Don’t crowd your frame or cut hands off at the wrists. Watch out for this when shooting in small spaces.

Arms and legs can act as leading lines for viewers that they follow out to the edge of the frame. Cropping at ankles, wrists, and foreheads is often too abrupt a cut-off for viewers. It is generally more acceptable to crop mid-thigh for 3/4th length portraits or at the waist/above the elbow for half length portraits. Also, cropping the forehead can have a “Frankenstein effect” so crop above the hairline.

3) Anything directly behind the subject’s head can make an image look weird.

Lines directly behind the head of a subject can be distracting. Check your backgrounds.

Mind your background to avoid “brain stems” – lines, trees, or other elements that photographers accidentally place their models directly in front of. Even in the studio they’ll appear in the form of wayward backdrop creases.

4) Slide your subject to the side.

Shifting a subject’s body over in the frame can produce more engaging portraits.

Symmetrical, center-weighted images can be really cool but the Rule of Thirds still has a strong place in photography. Placing your subject along one of the vertical/horizontal lines that divide an image into thirds produces pleasing results. Also, placing your model at an angle rather than square with the frame can be “slimming”.

5) Use broad and short lighting to your advantage.

The flash here is set up for broad lighting. Short lighting would dictate moving the flash to the far side of the subject’s face.

In broad lighting, the light is on the part of the face closest to the camera. Short lighting is on the far side of the face. Broad lighting is often good for softening skin and for thin-faced subjects while short lighting is good for bringing out wrinkles/character and for thinning wide faces. Use broad lighting if you want to avoid glare in glasses.

Using broad lighting (left) vs short lighting (right) will have a huge impact on your subject.

6) Direct your model through a series of micro adjustments and expressions.

Direct your subject through incremental changes in body language and expression.

The devil is in the details and your winning shot might differ from the rest because of a slight change in expression (like a Peter Hurley-esque “squinch”, parted lips, or dropped shoulders) rather than from large movements.

7) Make the most of lousy locations.

If you can’t have the location you love, love the location you can get.

Don’t shy away from shooting if you don’t have a studio or a park nearby. A strong portrait can be taken anywhere if you you’re following other compositional rules.

8) Shooting down onto your model is more flattering than shooting up at them.

It’s very rare for a subject to look good when being shot from below.

It’s rare for a subject to look good when being shot from below, even when you’re going for a power look. Nostrils are just not very photogenic — stick to eye-level or above. Remembering these rules and practicing good shooting habits will help you create consistently strong portraits. After a while you will have enough experience to successfully break the rules and develop your own distinct style.

To see more of Alex’s work, browse her SmugMug-hosted portfolio here.

Cold Snap! Tips for Staying Warm While Taking Winter Photos

Planning on hitting the snowscapes with your camera? There’s plenty of cold-weather advice on the web, but our in-house landscape adventurers offered to share some of the more practical tips to help you stay focused on having a good time.  From one photo lover to another, it’s about getting the shot and having fun – not freezing your fingers off. Here’s what they said.

1) Keep Those Hands Warm

Snow can turn an otherwise mundane scene into something starkly exotic. Photo by Ivan Makarov.

Your hands are the second-most important part of you in photography (after your eyes), so treat them well. There are many kinds of gloves that keep your appendages toasty while still giving you tactical function: traditional, fingerless, convertible mitten/glove, or just regular gloves that you remove to hit the shutter. Go to the store, try them out, find what works best for you and your shooting style. As a bonus, get a couple of chemical hand-warmer packets and throw them into your pockets.

2) Hold Your Breath

Be ready and spend more time exploring the beauty of winter. Photo by Welling Photography.

 It’s pretty neat to exhale plumes of smoke like a dragon in winter, but you probably don’t want this getting into your shot. If it’s frosty out and you’re trying to capture clear, pristine views, hold your breath when you hit the shutter to be sure you’re not polluting the pic.

3) Bag It! (Your camera, that is)

Landscape photographers are familiar with harsh conditions, but being prepared is a good tip for all kinds of photographers. Photo by Schmootography.

Your house is significantly warmer (and damper) than the naked outdoors, and this can wreak havoc on your camera when you come inside. When you’re finished shooting, try sealing your camera in a Ziploc bag, pack it away, and wait for it to come to ambient temp after you get inside. Why? A cold camera in a warm room can cause moisture in the air to condense into water droplets, which is a risk your inner electronics probably don’t want to take.

4) Beware the Tripod

Just because the water’s still flowing doesn’t mean it’s warm. Photo by Mike Diaz Photography.

Given how tripods are a bit of an investment, we don’t recommend that you go out and buy a new one just to shoot in the cold. But if you are shopping for one and plan on doing a lot of winter landscapes, certain materials like carbon fiber don’t get as cold when you grab them. The last thing you need are sweaty palms that get you stuck when you’re packing up! If you do have a traditional metal tripod, try wrapping the legs with insulating fabric where you grab them, or cover the parts closest to the ground in plastic to prevent salt, water, and other damage. You know those long, rectangular plastic baggies you find at incense shops? Those are perfect.

Way-over-the-top tip: If you’re super hardcore, wood tripods are a great compromise between cold resistance and vibration stabilization. It’s not likely you’ll be spending your winter standing in icy rivers, but if you were, we hear wood’s the way to go. 

5) Plan Ahead

Winter portraits can be tons of fun for both you and your clients. Keep warm and plan ahead so the attitudes stay positive! Photo by Black Cat Photography.

If you know what you’re doing, you’re less likely to scramble. And this is especially important in uncomfortable situations like bone-freezing cold, so plan your shoot as best you can. Scout the location, check the weather and sunrise/sunset times, keep cables and cards within reach, and have an idea of the final image so you bring just the gear you need. The less time you spend switching lenses or moving around, the more time you can spend focusing on your shot. (Plus, it’ll probably be dark.) 

6) Thaw Properly

Snow can add emotional warmth to your engagement portraits, even if it’s ten below zero. Photo by Black Cat Photography.

When you’re done, don’t forget to come indoors and sip a hot chocolate while you edit, upload, and share your photos. We’ll argue that this is the most important step of all. Because chocolate. 😉

Stay warm and creative this season! If you’re feeling ready for snow and need more inspiration, don’t forget to check out our short film about Arctic surf photographer, Chris Burkhard. 

Related Links:

 

6 Low-Light Photography Ideas Every Shutterbug Should Try

So far this season we’ve shared a few basic dark-friendly photo tips, but winter’s not over yet. Here’s a few more ways you can stay creative with the camera even when the nights are long and there’s never a lot of light.

1) Use Your Bokeh

The shallow depth-of-field (low f-stop numbers) turned city lights into a dreamy blur, while the candle stayed super sharp. Photo by Ana Pogačar.

Bokeh is the blurring of the out-of-focus areas you’ll see when you’re taking pictures with your lens opened all the way (low f-stop numbers). It’s a great way to draw the viewer’s eye to a part of the scene, since everything else fades into a creamy blur.

Bonus tip: Lights (like Christmas lights) usually appear as circles, but did you know that you could make them any shape you want?  Simply cut out a shape in dark paper and tape it over your lens like a lens cap, then take your picture through the hole at your lowest aperture value. Voila! Your background lights will automagically be hearts, stars, snowflakes, or whatever else you’ve cut into your 10-cent bokeh-maker.

2) Make Twinkling Stars

Bump your aperture to f/11 (or higher) and use a tripod to turn each individual light into a tiny star. Photo by Welling Photography.

Grab your tripods and make it a starry holiday night even if it’s snowing up a storm. The opposite of creamy bokeh, taking pictures with your lenses stopped all the way down (highest aperture values) will turn bright points of light into little stars. Since this means little light goes through your lens, you’ll need to set your camera on a tripod, set a timer, and let it go for a while. The coolest thing? Every lens creates its own signature star shape, so have fun experimenting with all the lenses in your kit to see which one you like best, sometimes the best stock photography is created by accident, so loosen up.

3) Use Creative (and Available) Light Sources

The fire pit and patio lights provided enough illumination to capture the subjects of this evening scene. Photo by Schmootography.

Don’t be limited to your strobe if you’re out with your friends and want to catch the mood! Sure it’s dark, but there’s tons of ways to snap your shot even if you don’t have your whole kit bag. Street lamps, strings of holiday lights, open doors, fire pits, and even the flashlight function on your cell phone are all  potential lighting sources for your next happy holiday shoot. Experiment with the kind of effect each one creates and think outside the box – maybe your best shot of the season is a simple silhouette?

4) Paint with Light

This dilapidated building would have been pitch black if a flashlight hadn’t been waved over the scene. Photo by Welling Photography.

Paint the town… with light! If you’d rather not move your friends over to the light source, bring it to them. Flashlights are all you need to stand your subjects where you want them most, and help them stand out in the dark. Be sure to set your camera on a tripod, set a longer exposure, and cover them with photons. It’s especially great if you’re outdoors and want to pair a sharp subject in the foreground and warm house lights (or even stars) behind them.

You may need to try a few times to get it right, and to be sure that you get everything covered before your shutter snaps closed.

5) Make Happy (Light) Trails

Heavy traffic in London is distilled into beautiful streaks with a tripod and a few seconds of your time. Photo by AMJ Visuals.

While you’ve already got your tripod out, why not play with moving subjects? Light trails are a cool way to capture things the eyes don’t see, and to get super creative in the dark. Moving bright objects – like cars and friends waving flashlights – turn into lines during a long exposure, so try photographing a busy street in your favorite snowy location. Or have a friend practice his Picasso techniques by drawing pictures in the air.

6) Bring a Friend

Photographers gather after dusk to capture the scene, trade tips, and admire each others’ gear. Photo by Schmootography.

If you’re afraid of the dark or just don’t want to learn alone, winter’s the perfect opportunity to warm up with a photowalk. You can experiment with all the techniques described above, or teach someone new who’s looking to learn. We’ve previously shared some tips about organizing social shoots from expert photowalk and community favorite, Scott Jarvie, so you can plan the best photowalk your town has ever seen… then pool them all in SmugMug so you can share the experience.

Stay warm, stay clicking, and stay creative!

Bouncing Off the Walls: Lighting, Glare, and Shadows When Photographing Interiors

Today’s guest post is part 3 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copywriter for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives an effective tip you should practice over and over again to avoid glare and control shadows when photographing rooms.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:

All diagrams made with LightingDiagrams.com


Photographing the inside of a room is tricky because there are a lot of reflective surfaces and lots of little objects everywhere to create shadows. Rooms are usually too dark to depend on natural light alone so I am going to show you one major trick that will build your confidence while shooting flash indoors, whether you hope to shoot interiors exclusively or if you’re simply shooting your own home for a listing.

Here is the one major trick: Pretend that lighting the space directly is simply not allowed. This will help you speed up your problem solving. Bouncing light off ceilings, walls, and white reflectors produces softer light and once you start doing it you will be hooked.

For those very new to flash photography, bouncing light is simply facing the front of your flash toward something other than your subject. Remember that light travels in a straight line so if you aim your light toward something reflective, like a white wall, you can depend on that light to bounce back off that wall onto everything nearby.

Why photographers love this:

  • Bouncing a flash off of a large, white surface makes the light spread further and appear bigger than it is.
  • Because of this spread, the light appears softer and more flattering.
  • White boards or reflectors tend to be more portable and less expensive than giant softboxes and can often produce similar effects.

Examples of Bounced Light in the Home

In any home, the bathroom will probably be your most difficult room to shoot because of its size, the dominant mirror, and reflective shower door. You probably won’t even be able to get a flash inside without seeing it in the mirror.

Here is what it looks like when I try to light the room with the flash directly:

The light skirts well off of the mirror without causing a reflection but the hot spots and shadows are distracting.

Here is the same scene when I bounce my flash off of a white door in the bathroom:

The shadows are much softer and almost completely gone while the frame of the mirror is much more evenly lit.

When Bouncing Bites Back

Before you start thinking that bouncing light is a fool-proof practice, you still have to consider your Family of Angles. Even light that is bouncing off of something will produce a reflection or glare if you are shooting in the line of fire.

A review of the Family of Angles:

Whether bounced or direct, the Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection. If you are getting a reflection, it means that that your camera is pointed toward exactly where the light is hitting and bouncing back into the lens. Every light source produces a Family of Angles and you will want to make sure your camera isn’t placed on the receiving end of it.

Keep your camera out of the danger zone by thinking about where the light is hitting and where you predict it will bounce back. Keep your camera away from the area where the predicted bounce-back is. Your other options are to:

  • Move your light.
  • Change your lens.
  • Change your light modifier.

In the example of my bathroom, using my door to bounce my light produced nice, soft light for a closeup shot. However, when I use a wide lens to capture the entire room I am now catching a reflection in my shower door! There are also some hard shadows coming from the toilet that I didn’t have to worry about in my prior shot.

The bathroom is too small for me to change where my camera is pointing and I can’t change anything about my door. I also must use my wide angle to capture the entire room so my only option is to change the position of my light.

I used a simple foam board you can get from a craft store and a light stand to bounce my light on. It is positioned high enough to miss the shower door but still producing enough scattered light to kill off harsh shadows.

There is definitely some fine tuning to be done, especially since I didn’t stage this scene, but this lighting tactic will get you off to a very good start – especially if you’re trying to graduate from on-camera flash.

You can use this method for every room in your house.

In this example of one portion of the living room, I simply pointed my flash straight at the scene. Unsightly shadows abound.

This is the result after bouncing my light off of that foam board.

 

My foam board isn’t even very big and it still made a big difference in softening those shadows. Imagine being able to bounce your light off of an entire white wall!

Practice this for awhile on everything you do. This works great for the following subjects:

  • Interiors, as demonstrated.
  • People. Learn more about the benefits of bouncing flash here.
  • Family gatherings, especially if you’re stuck trying to take a family portrait in a tight space with unruly relatives and not much time. Don’t set up a whole lighting rig – just bounce the flash you have!
  • Products, especially when paired with a lot of diffusion.

I hope this gets you out of the shadows and onto the path toward creating more pleasing images! Be sure to check out the other two parts of this series, Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses and The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare. You can also browse my photography portfolio (hosted by SmugMug).

 

Benjamin Von Wong: How to Make Everyday People Look Badass

When you combine the imagination of Benjamin Von Wong with the photographic enthusiasm of SmugMug and the MacGyver-esque ingenuity of SmugMug’s facilities genius, Daniel Petrosian, you end up with a lot of chaos and cool photos. Von Wong’s persistence to coax the best out of his everyday models resulted in portraits that awed the models. Many had no idea a “beast mode” existed within themselves.

Learn more about the magic behind creating athletes out of SmugMug employees with the right lighting, motivation, and a bit of rain.

Step 1. Lights, Location, and Rain Rig

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

Von Wong: SmugMug President and Co-Founder Chris MacAskill, aka “Baldy,” wanted to fill up the SmugMug gym with awesome photos, and I happened to be in town, so he commissioned me. He wanted simple black-and-white shots, but I had to put that special Von Wong spin on it.

The day began quite normally: setting up lights, backdrop, and rain. Things started getting exciting a good hour and a half later when—I don’t know what happened! I think word spread that the photos were turning out great, so Baldy ended up coming out himself to see the photos and start filming.

It started off really small, and it expanded from there into full-out awesome.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

What made you think rain would be perfect for this shoot?

Von Wong: I think rain, in a sense, symbolizes hardship. We wanted to make people look like they’re working out and putting forth an effort, and everything’s harder when it rains outside. You don’t want to go out. It’s just crummy and grimy. From a metaphorical sense, the rain adds a really nice dimension.

Then, from a photography standpoint, it suddenly adds all these nice beads of water dripping down skin, which looks really nice.

It’s one thing to have this idea, and it’s quite another to control weather.

Von Wong: Yeah. In my mind it was pretty easy to make a rain rig, which is essentially a glorified sprinkler system distributed along a longer cross section. I talked to people who were smarter than me—Daniel and Brent—and explained what I was looking for. We basically had one day, and they just pulled it together with about $20.

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

How did you go about making it rain?

Petrosian: We brainstormed a little bit, trying to think simple and low-tech. Things were happening so fast, we didn’t have time to rig up something sophisticated. Think simple, and things usually work out. And we thought PVC pipe and sprinkler heads might do the trick. So we went to Home Depot.

We bought different kinds of sprinkler heads to test them out and see what the flow was like, how fast the water would come out, and how we could control it. After some experimenting, we ended up using brass/copper old-school sprinkler heads.

We connected them together using PVC pipe and plumber’s glue, and then we just connected a hose to it and made it rain!

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

So now that you had rain, how did you go about photographing it?

Von Wong: With water, just like smoke, you photograph its reflections by backlighting it. Water looks really good when it’s backlit. We needed two hard bare-bulb lights to light the droplets, and a black background so the drops would show up. For the foreground, I used two big parabolic umbrellas. Any large, directional light source would work to bring in our characters so they’re nicely lit without rough shadows.

It’s a basic four-light set up. With the subject in the middle, you have two lights coming in from the back and two bigger, softer lights coming in from the front.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

How did you get rid of the ambient light?

Von Wong: We initially wanted to do this indoors because, ideally, if you want to freeze water droplets, you need a short flash duration. If you want a short flash duration, the flashes have to be at lower power. And that’s usually done in a darker environment.

We thought about shooting inside the gymnasium by putting down a big tarp and pumping out the water with a shop vac, then we kind of stared at each other and said that’s going to be way too much trouble. So we went with Plan B: a shaded area outside underneath a tree.

I ended up shooting at 1/1500th of a second at F/5.6 or F/4.

Step 2. Motivate Your Models

What was the biggest challenge during the shoot?

Von Wong: This wasn’t a professional athlete photoshoot. We were taking average people who hardly have any photoshoot experience and trying to make them into something more. To show them like they’ve never been shown before. The true magic of the shots comes from people doing something they had never imagined they would before.

And that wasn’t achieved just by taking a single shot. It was achieved with this very persistent pushing of people and getting them to try different things until they were comfortable in front of the camera. Pushing people to get the best out of them. That’s where most of the work happened. If you look at the video, you see me trying to encourage people, pushing them, making them feel good about themselves.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

Tell me a little bit about trying to coax the best out of people.

Von Wong: You don’t always know what a person’s capable of doing. In my experience, the best way to find out what they can or can’t do is to simply ask them to do a variety of different things. It doesn’t matter what they actually do, whether it looks good or not, you just keep throwing ideas at them.

Along the way, as things are getting better, you say, “Wait, I really like that. It’s looking great over there. Put your arm a little higher. Let’s try another angle.”

Getting out from behind the desk to look fierce are (from left) Michael Shostack, head of online marketing; Katherine Cheng, head of community; and Pablo Ceron, product manager. Normally nice, approachable, and with sunny dispositions, these portraits reveal it’s probably better not to cross any of them, just in case. Photos by Alexandra Zielinski

It’s a continuous conversation to keep people busy. If you let them think too much about what they’re doing, sometimes it feels ridiculous. What looks good in camera might not feel natural in position. Not every pose I came up with worked. Actually, a lot of them failed. We took about 2,000 photos that day. But that process of working through things, people start to trust you.

A photoshoot is one thing, but the other aspect to it is the experience. All those who participated really felt like they pushed themselves and found a side of themselves they had never showcased before. That’s very important.

Photo by Michael Shostack
Photo by Benjamin Von Wong

 

Step 3. Process and Print—BIG

Can we talk a bit about your post process?

Von Wong: It was relatively simple because all we wanted to do was convert the images from color to black and white. There’s a beautiful little button in Lightroom called “B&W” that does most of the work for you. That got the shots 90% done. Because we had taken the time to set up great lighting and good location, we got the photo right straight out of camera.

What did you do for the other 10%?

Von Wong: There was a little tweaking of highlights, shadows, and clarity to make the image pop a bit more. The rest was cleaning up water droplets that were too dense in certain areas, like on the face, using healing and cloning to get rid of distractions. There was a little dodging and burning using curves to highlight different muscles and carve things out.

It was very simple—about 20 minutes per image for the post-production.

We love HUGE prints here at SmugMug. Were these tricky to print larger than life for a gym environment?

MacAskill: Our gym lives inside an old machine shop, and the available wall space—above the mirrors and equipment—curves. Even the ceiling is curved. So we needed a material we could print on that would, most importantly, look amazing, but also bend to fit the curved walls and stand up to the gym’s environment. And be large enough, of course.

We ended up printing each image with an Oce Lightjet at 68” tall on Kodak Endura semi-gloss bonded onto 1/4″ sintra, which is a lightweight PVC foamboard. We thought about adding a thin polycarbonate laminate over the prints to ruggedize them, but the prints ended up being hung so high we didn’t think they’d get exposed to sweat or medicine balls. So we didn’t laminate them. But it was a perfect option had we hung the photos any lower.

Photo by Alexandra Zielinski

What did you love most about this shoot?

Von Wong: The greatest compliment was all those who didn’t participate were upset. I thought that was great. A lot of them felt like it wasn’t really their thing, but when they saw how the others’ photos turned out, they were amazed and sad they hadn’t done it themselves. That’s the best compliment you can get.


Check out an extra tip from Von Wong on how to achieve a similar look with a bucket of water and two speedlights!

Find Benjamin online: