Gardner, KS Sibling Photos | Aaron, Zach & Maya

What a perfect, cloudy day we had in Gardner, Kansas this past weekend. I got to meet Aaron, Zach and Maya who were a bit shy but we had a great time shooting around their parents' property! It was refreshing to see siblings treat each other this well, even in the short time I had with them. They seemed to just know what the others were thinking or feeling and had a strangely wonderful connection with each other. I hope that never changes for them! 

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Buena Vista, Colorado and Mount Princeton Hot Springs | Girls' Trip

I am beyond blessed to be so close to my mom, sisters and mother-in-law. How unusual (and awesome) is it that we went on a girls' weekend trip together and everyone had a blast! Here's how it happened... my husband had some vacation time that he was going to lose if he didn't use it so he planned a backpacking trip to Colorado with his dad, brother and my dad. Us girls decided we would tag along for at least the first couple days until we had to get back for work and it spiraled into heading to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (which just so happens to be one of my favorite places) for the weekend so we didn't totally miss out on the adventure part of the trip! Needless to say, I did not have my camera out all weekend because I was busy enjoying family time... but I couldn't resist snapping a few photos at the end of the trip :)

Three out of four of us happened to be doing Whole 30 while we were there so we had to get pretty creative with our food options, but we made it work! Here are the places we went; I would definitely recommend all three and they are all within walking distance! 

  • House Rock Kitchen - Hands-down my favorite restaurant in the town (just be prepared to pay close to $20 per person after tip)
  • Simple Eatery & Spoon it Up - Another amazing option. You can also get baked goods and/or outdoor gear and clothing items here as well! 
  • Buena Vista Roastery Cafe - Definitely my favorite coffee shop in the area - the coconut milk latte is out-of-this-world good in the rare case you are on Whole 30 too

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Springdale, Arkansas Family | Jack's Third Birthday Photos

You definitely would have laughed if you saw me at this session. Basically we just let Jack play and I chased him around all morning trying to trick him into glancing up at the camera. But these were definitely worth it… how adorable is he!?! He turned three years old this past week… which is crazy because Kat was my roommate for a year of college - I still feel like I’m too young to have friends with kiddos, much less three-year-olds!!!!!!! Jack’s dad is still deployed (Airforce), but one of these days maybe I’ll be lucky enough to catch the whole family together. For now, I hope these make you smile :)

Jack was the star of the show yesterday, but I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple photos of his little sis, Maisie, when she woke up towards the end of our session. I wish I looked that adorable and was that happy right when I woke up! I am so not a morning person. Although, my mom did say that when I was little I used to come upstairs with the BIGGEST grin on my face, all ready to start the day… not really sure what happened between then and now :P 

Destination Family Photos | Estes Park, Colorado | Wilson Family

WOW. I never knew how much FUN a destination family photo session would be!! I am still amazed at how I ended up shooting this session in Estes Park, Colorado all the way from Kansas City and it will definitely be one I remember forever! I'm reminded of John "Hannibal" Smith in the movie A-Team when he says "I love it when a plan comes together" ;)

Moraine Park, Estes Park Colorado

Photographers - click the photo to learn more about achieving High Dynamic Range (HDR) images like this

Jenny (flowery dress) is a co-worker of mine at Visit KC and one day she asked me if I knew of any photographers in the Estes Park, Colorado area because her extended family was going to be vacationing there in a few months. They wanted to get family photos done with the mountains in the background (you can probably see where this is going). I told her I would ask around, but when she told me the dates they would be there, I realized that, somehow, it was the EXACT same week that I was going to be in Denver for my younger brother's wedding!! I'm an adventurous person and absolutely can't resist an excuse to get some mountain time, ESPECIALLY if it involves getting to take pictures of such wonderful people!! So, after all the wedding craziness, my little sis and I drove the hour from Denver up to Loveland and stayed with some friends. I think we got in about 11:00pm and hit the road for Estes at 6:00am the next morning in order to meet the Wilsons by 8:00. Maybe I am crazy... but these photos turned out SO much better than they would have in the afternoon when the sun was bright enough to wash out the background scenery. I'm in love with the pastel colors (thanks to the cloudy morning and Adobe Lightroom). 

Location: Moraine Park | Estes Park, Colorado (navigate to Moraine Park Campground and split left just before the campground to get to this trailhead - Cub Lake trail)

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Leawood, Kansas Summer Family Photos | The Swim Family

The Swim family hadn't had photos taken in 7 years so I was incredibly honored to be the photographer they chose to break the cycle in Leawood, Kansas last week!! Their two poodles are practically part of the family so we definitely had to include them in some of the images as well. Although the heat was almost unbearable, I did discover a new location to shoot at which was exciting! This Taekwondo and lake loving family put up with the heat and my high pitched "get the dogs to look at me" voice without complaint and the kids were incredibly well behaved the whole time. 

Location: Tomahawk Creek Bike Park | Leawood, Kansas

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Woodland Park Summer Family Session | Parks Family

I feel so lucky to have a place like Woodland Park, Colorado to come back to and ESPECIALLY take photos in even though I live in Kansas City now. I grew up in this beautiful little town, right near Pikes Peak and there really is nothing like it! I have told my parents that they aren't allowed to ever move so that I'm never torn between going to see them or going back to Woodland Park and I always have someone to stay with ;) Luckily, I don't think they have plans to. I got to do the Parks family photos again at the newly renovated Memorial Park... in Woodland Park... that's a lot of parks, Ha!! Seeing this family once or twice a year is always a highlight of my trips home. We got connected because of photography several years back and I've gotten to capture their sweet kiddos from close to the beginning! I think this was my favorite session yet since it was cloudy instead of the usual bright sunlight we have worked through mid-day (due to schedules) in the past. It really does make a big difference with small kids since I can basically just photograph them wherever they decide to go instead of trying to place them somewhere for each image. They greatly enjoyed watching in the pond and the stream for fish and swinging on the swings.... and I greatly enjoyed capturing real LIFE for them as usual. I couldn't love my job more!!

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Classic Downtown Kansas City Couple Session | Kristi Rose & Andrew

Kristi Rose and Andrew are two of the coolest, most hilarious, most genuine people I know. Ten short days are all I have left of this incredible couple before they move to California for the next chapter in their lives. It is bittersweet for sure. They have added so much joy to my life and will leave a gaping hole in their absence, but in the same breath, Kristi Rose is fulfilling her lifelong dream of going to Physician's Assistant School so I'm incredibly excited for them! In honor of the time they have spent here in Kansas City (for Kristi, most of her life), we did a sort of "Classic KC" session... starting with the STREETCAR and ending with the skyline :D

This was a session to remember, and hopefully one that will help them remember Kansas City and the people here! 

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Bentonville, Arkansas Family of 6 | The Harris Family

I always enjoy family photo sessions, but sometimes there are certain ones that stand out in my mind as really having gone well and knowing before I even leave the session that I am happy with the images I was able to capture. This is one of those sessions! We shot at the beautiful Tanyard Creek trail, which is one of my favorites because it has variety in the background instead of just trees (bridges, rock and even a waterfall). 

This family is the absolute sweetest; the kids treat each other so well and the older ones (from what I can tell) really help their mom and dad out with the younger two. I had the privilege of photographing Hatcher as a newborn and when he turned one as well as Hayes (their adopted son) when he turned one. It's such a joy to watch them grow up and help capture those seasons - it's one of my favorite things about photography!!

If you enjoy the look and colors in these photos, just know that these champs met me at 7:30am so the sun wouldn't be as harsh as it is in the afternoon. It worked out perfectly not only for light but to avoid the majority of the Arkansas heat as well (plus the kiddos were well-rested!). Definitely something to consider - I'm always up for early morning sessions! 

Northwest Arkansas Family Photo Session | Kat, Jack & Maisie

You might never guess that the grounds around Chapel on the Creeks in Rogers, Arkansas would prove to be such a beautiful and kid-friendly location for photos, but it definitely is! Well, there is a river and a bridge to throw things off and a pond with ducks... so by kid-friendly I mostly just mean entertaining.  

Kat was a volleyball teammate during college and my roommate for one year. She has super dry humor and says the funniest things with a completely straight face; one of the things I love most about her. We had several things in common, including taking the least amount of showers possible without losing any friends, adoring sleep more than the normal person and talking about food 90% of the time. For the last couple years, her husband has been stationed in Europe and she has had two of the cutest little kiddos I've ever seen: Jack and Maisie. I had met Jack, but this session was the first time I got to meet Maisie and oh. my. goodness. she is the sweetest! The three of them did this session as a Father's Day gift for her husband, Nate, while he is deployed for six months. Talk about a power momma, she is amazing! 

Bentonville Bridal Session | Melanie Goff

Yesterday I got to stand by my stunning sister-in-law's side in Central Arkansas as she married her best friend! I couldn't imagine a better person for Melanie than Hunter. He is a faithful man of God and a wonderful balance between sweet and goof; you can tell just how much he adores Mel. I had the great pleasure of watching/taking photos when he proposed and celebrating with family at their engagement, but it didn't feel real until she was walking down the aisle looking like an absolute princess and smiling ear to ear at the love of her life. These are the moments that I'll cherish forever. I'm so thankful she asked me to capture some bridal portraits for her a couple weeks ago and can't Wait to see the images from yesterday's ceremony by Lucas Finch Photography!! 

High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Aperture Priority Mode | Landscape and Urban Photos That Really Pop!

Airbus Plane leaving Seattle

Ever since I got into photography with my first DSLR 6 ½ years ago, I’ve been obsessed with images of people. I became pretty comfortable photographing people in different lighting situations, but I focused so much on them that I never learned how to take good landscape/urban photos until this year! It has been one of my goals because my husband and I love to travel and I wanted to be able to better capture our adventures.

I have always known what HDR is, but never realized how simple it is to accomplish well before now. I’m excited to share this trick with you that COMPLETELY transformed my landscape and urban images within a couple days of learning it!

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Definition - in my own simplified words:

Multiple exposures combined into one image to capture the most detail in each element of the scene.

For example, imagine it's mid-afternoon on a sunny day with a few clouds here and there and you are trying to photograph the side of a building that is shadowed. The very best exposure you could manage with one image would be a balance between the darkest and lightest parts of the scene and would most likely get something like this straight out of camera:

Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, Kansas City Crossroads

 However, if you take one underexposed image to capture the detail in the sky, one balanced one like above and one overexposed image to capture the detail in the shadows…

High Dynamic Range Images

...you can combine them to create something like this:

Kauffman Center for Performing Arts | Kansas City, Missouri

Big difference, right?? Given, that last image has been post processed, but you can tell that there is no way the original image would end up looking that detailed or have as much ‘pop’ as the final one.

Things to know about HDR:

  • It doesn't work for situations with a moving subject unless you are purposely trying to achieve motion blur for creative purposes, this is for stationary scenes

  • In my opinion, it works best on partially cloudy days where you can see some of the sky through the clouds - the more depth between highlights and shadow, the better!

  • A sturdy tripod is very helpful for these, but it is a myth that they can’t be achieved without one. If you are careful with settings (not letting your shutter speed get too slow), it is so simple. In fact, I took every image in this post hand-held, except for the first example of the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.

  • You can certainly combine more than three images at light intervals that are more spread out, but this is a good place to start

Main Street | Kansas City, Missouri

APERTURE PRIORITY MODE

Aperture Priority Mode

In my experience, the simplest way to achieve this is to use Aperture Priority Mode (A on Nikon, Av on Canon) and the Auto-Exposure Bracketing option in your camera's menu settings. 

Many new photographers go from using Auto to Aperture Priority Mode (you set the aperture and the camera automatically selects the appropriate shutter speed to get a properly exposed image) to Manual, but when I started learning, I went straight from using Auto to using Manual mode so understanding Aperture and Shutter Priority has been an interesting challenge! Aperture Priority has already been so helpful and as soon as I get comfortable using it with my external flash, it may be my go-to!

Western Auto Sign | Kansas City, Missouri

Here is the thing about this mode that confused me at first: you set your aperture, but then your camera will often decide that the shutter speed needs to be way too slow to shoot hand-held in order to achieve the correct exposure for the scene (typically in low-light situations). I never shoot hand-held slower than 1/60 for my shutter speed and usually even faster if I’m using a long telephoto lens to avoid camera shake and blurry images. The trick to fixing this issue is to just increase your ISO because it will force your camera to speed up the shutter speed to compensate... it's that simple! 

Exposure Compensation and Bracketing

The other MUST KNOW fact about Aperture Priority comes in to play during the times when you don't agree with your camera on what it thinks the 'correct' exposure is. Every time you adjust your ISO or aperture, your camera will compensate to keep the exposure level the exact same. However, you can override this by finding something called "Exposure Compensation/Auto Exposure Bracketing" in your camera menu. It is literally just a scale that you move right to make it think the exposure needs to be brighter or left to make it darker. This is also where you will set your exposure bracketing for HDR. 

 

Okay, take a deep breath... I know this is a lot of information and it may not sound as easy as I said it was. I promise it is, just email me or comment below if something doesn't make sense - I'd love to chat! After you follow the process a couple times, it will become second nature.

 

 

BACK TO HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE

While you have the exposure compensation scale pulled up, use the scroller at the top right by your shutter release button (Canon) to scroll two clicks to the right. You should see two extra tick marks appear on the scale so you have one in the center where you started, another 1 stop underexposed and another 1 stop overexposed. Be sure to click the enter button by your thumb to actually SET this setting (I kept forgetting that step at first). You can set them even father apart and do more than 3 images, but as mentioned above, this is a good place to start.

 

Be sure your camera is set to continuous shutter so it takes multiple images if you hold the shutter release button down. Now, take a deep breath, steady your shooting hand and hold down the shutter release button until you hear/feel it take three images. Check them out and you'll notice that they probably look similar to my Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts example above!! You did it!! 

Kansas City Convention Center | Downtown

POST PROCESSING

Town Topic | Kansas City, Missouri

Last but not least, I would be remiss if didn't explain how to combine and edit your images. There are a plethora of ways but here is a brief overview of three of them (I highly prefer the third so feel free to skip to that).

Photoshop: 

  • Click File > Automate > Merge to HDR Pro
  • Browse to select your images and click Okay
  • Make whatever adjustments you'd like in the pop-up window and click Okay
  • Save your image

Lightroom:

  • Select the images you want to combine
  • Right click > Photo Merge > HDR 
  • Make your adjustments and click Merge

Lightroom + HDR Effects Pro (Google Nik Collection):

  • Download this FREE software (used to be owned by Nikon, hence the name 'Nik') via the button in the top right corner
  • Follow the instructions to install on your computer (you will be able to use this in both Photoshop and Lightroom, I just prefer Lightroom at the moment)
  • Open Lightroom and select the images you want to combine
  • Right click > Export > HDR Effects Pro 2 (not sure why you have to 'export,' but it is what it is)
  • If you took the images hand-held, be sure the Alignment, Ghost Reduction and Chromatic Aberration boxes are checked. If you shot with a tripod, you can un-check the Ghost Reduction box if you want
  • Click Create HDR
  • Select from the incredible presets on the left side and make your additional adjustments on the right
  • Click Save!!
  • The image will show up in the original folder as a TIFF file
    • To use this software in Photoshop, install it and then click File > Automate > Merge to HDR Effects Pro 2 and follow these same steps
Motorcycle in Yunnan, China
Pagoda HDR

Pagoda in Wenshan, China

I would love to see what you create (hello@kira-whitney.com)!! Was this article helpful?! Leave me a comment below! 

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Shutterfest 2017 | A photography conference

Even though I've lived in Kansas City for 3 years now, last week was the first time we made the quick drive over to St. Louis. While we didn't get too far outside of the Union Station area where this conference was held, I definitely got the feeling that I like KC better :) It was definitely worth the visit though and most of the classes were great! It's so affirming so be able to keep up with the language that the speakers use and I really left with a renewed passion for this beautiful industry. Below you'll see the amazing Westcott Ice Light in action, some fun shots of my husband, one groom model and some images from a hands on lifestyle family photography class... basically a hodge podge of images from throughout the two days we were there! Oh yeah, and I can't forget about the coffee shop and the flowers that were just too pretty to pass up :D I absolutely love shooting weddings, but this sort of experience and shooting while I'm on trips keeps things interesting and different and it gives me an opportunity to just shoot for FUN and for myself!