An Ode to the Side Hustle & Big News on Being DEBT FREE!

Thank you thank you thank you to any of you who have booked a photo session with me in the last few years! It’s largely thanks to you that my husband and I can finally say that we are DEBT FREE! We have tried to make payments that were a little more than what felt comfortable EVERY chance we felt like we could since we got married over 4 years ago and we’ve been hoping and praying for this moment. We could not be more grateful that it’s finally here!

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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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Better Business Tips for Photographers: Pricing, Goal Setting and Grammar

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If you haven’t noticed by now, I believe that continual education is key to a thriving business. I have so much to learn, but I’ve also learned a lot over the past five years! Here are three “better business” tips from personal experience. These are geared towards a growing photography business, but should be somewhat applicable to other industries as well.

  1. Accurately price your service/products and beware of changing them too often

If you’re anything like me, you tend to get discouraged and maybe even freak out a little when it feels like no one is booking sessions with you. Obviously the first thing our minds go to is our prices. “Maybe I’m not worth what I’m charging” is one of the most common, detrimental thoughts photographers have. I’m absolutely not saying that you should be totally booked no matter what you charge and no matter what value you are actually providing to your clients. What I mean is that there are ways to determine your prices based on experience in the industry, education, equipment and overall experience provided for the client, along with  the market you find yourself in. Rather than pulling numbers out of the sky and hoping for the best, my advice is to do your research.

  • Education and Experience: There are so many self-taught photographers in our culture today because information/education are so easily accessible online and because entry-level equipment is relatively affordable and simple to obtain. I know you already know that, but what are you doing to set yourself apart? Consider how many hours you have spent watching videos or reading books and what the quality of the source of information is. Is your education solely from random YouTube videos? Don’t worry, I’ve been there, but there are so many more in-depth options out there… resources like KelbyOne and Lynda.com do cost, but they give a much more well-rounded picture of specific topics and can really help grow your knowledge base. Taking it a step further, have you taken any classes or earned any certificates? Are you a CPP (Certified Professional Photographer)? How long have you been shooting/how many sessions or events have you done in that time? Have you attended any interactive photography conferences? Are you confident you can create beautiful images in any lighting situation? I think you get the idea.. All of these things lead to your credibility, which leads to being able to charge more.

  • Equipment: Know where your equipment fits on the scale between entry-level and professional, both quality and quantity-wise. Yes, I believe that you can achieve great results without having top-of-the-line equipment, but there is definitely a point at which it will be difficult to increase your prices unless you update your tools because they do make a difference (take a peek into my camera bag). In order for your clients to invest more in you, you need to invest more in them and the value you provide… it’s reciprocal.

  • Market: To find roughly where you fit in your market, do some research from your client’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and search as though you were trying to find a photographer for whatever you specialize in. Take note of the quality of work for each photographer you find and make an educated guess as to whether you are as experienced and/or provide as good of a final product or not. Be sure to consider what they include as far as digital files, prints, etc. in their pricing. In my research on wedding photography prices in Kansas City, I found this incredibly helpful infographic and supporting article from SnapKnot that affirmed that my pricing is right where I would like it to be in this market. Obviously our perspective of our own work may be a bit biased, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a good friend or family member do a little research of their own to give you another set of eyes (especially helpful if they’ve seen your website/work but don’t know what you charge yet).

  • Client Experience: Evaluate the overall experience that you offer your clients. Are there things you can do to add value? For example, I recently added a welcome guide as a tangible planning and educational resource for the brides that book with me to add worth to my service. I include a few small, branded gifts and a discount on invitations through a printing company to complete the package and make them feel as special as they are. From first contact to final product, your processes, personality and authenticity should result in the comfort and satisfaction of your client.

Kansas City, Union Station from the Liberty Memorial

If you change your prices, make any updates to your packages all at the same time. Then give it at LEAST a year before you change them again (whether you increase or decrease). Your clients need to know what to expect from you and if you change your prices too often, it can negatively affect their trust and confidence in your services. It is also a crazy hard, awkward process to charge previous clients more than you used to, so the less often you have to go through this transition, the better.

 

2.  Identify areas for improvement and create a plan to progress and meet goals

What makes you most nervous about photography? Do more of that.

I love to-do lists. Like… REALLY love them. Sometimes I write things down that I’m about to do solely for the satisfaction of crossing them off when they’re done. Call me crazy, but I think that feeling of celebrating progress has a snowball effect and makes me want to accomplish more! The key to to-do lists is prioritizing and making yourself go roughly in order of what is most needed.

For example, earlier this year I really focused on branding my business. Yes it involved a new logo/color scheme, but the overall priority was CONSISTENCY. While I had mostly discovered my style of photography, I lacked consistent guidelines and purpose in my processes. Of course, my branding to-do list was a fluid entity, growing and changing as I explored different opportunities to streamline my workflow and become memorable to my viewers/clients. Here is an idea of what my list might have looked like towards the beginning of the year:

    Priority:

  • Select color scheme that will complement my photographic style

  • Make new logo using those colors

    • Utilize a feather → meaning = freedom (flight) and constant growth/change (molting)

  • Take photos to use throughout the year wearing brand colors

  • Reformat and rebrand wedding contract, wedding questionnaire and printing release

  • Create wedding welcome packet for new brides

    Ongoing:

  • Interject more of myself and personal life posts on social media. You ARE your brand!

  • Improve SEO by writing more detailed and location specific blog posts (wedding stories, educational posts, etc.)

  • Utilize Google calendar to remember anniversaries, track leads, follow up on prospects, set reminders to check in with clients, etc. (I set up a separate Photography calendar so I can toggle it on and off from my daily life calendar - I move leads to my personal one once they are set since I share that calendar with my husband)

The ongoing goals are obviously harder to check off, but as they become habitual, I replace them with more priority objectives.

3. Pretty please, pay attention to your spelling and grammar

After making this request, I am suddenly ultra self-conscious of the grammar in this post! We all make mistakes, it’s bound to happen. However, if you are consistently making common errors like the misuse of “their,” “they’re,” and “there,” it IS noticeable and it decreases your chance of being taken seriously as a professional.

That’s all for now! Do you have something specific you’re interested in knowing? Shoot me a note at hello@kira-whitney.com

Kansas City Outdoor Photography Locations

We have such a beautiful mix of city/urban and nature spots that make for a diverse range of photography backgrounds here in Kansas City. Whether you are looking for a location for family, senior, engagement sessions or beyond, you are sure to find something that fits your vision and gives your client a unique look (did I sound like a commercial just then? I totally sounded like a commercial). Whenever I travel to a place I'm not very familiar with, it's tough to find good options to suggest to clients who live there since I don't have time to location scout.  Many of these may seem typical to the folks who live here, but these classic spots are also timeless and they are popular for very good reasons. KC friends, keep an eye out for some of my favorite "Off the Beaten Path" locations to come. Ready... set... GO!

Liberty Memorial

 

This is the most iconic overlook of the Kansas City Skyline; one of those views that never gets old and never seems to look quite the same thanks to the ever-changing lighting and ever-growing city. For portraits, this location is best on a cloudy day as it faces North and there isn't a great way to position your subject to be back-lit by the sun. The massive concrete walls surrounding the overlook, along with the stairs down the sides to the lawn in front of Union Station give plenty of options for simple, plain backdrops with more opportunity for good lighting as many areas are shaded and positioning is more forgiving. The area outside of Crown Center, including the walkway between it and Union Station has a lot of great textures and opportunities as well. Just don't underestimate the hike back up the hill if you parked at the Liberty Memorial... 

See more from this location.

Liberty Memorial Kansas City
 

Kansas City Scout

Another of my favorite skyline views. This location is best around sunset as the buildings begin to light up and the sun goes behind the trees. Just a short walk down the street to Penn Valley Park you can find lots of tree cover for when it's a little brighter out. This is a great location for the client who wants a combination of city and nature - give them both!

See more from this location. (The photos with the skyline and trees were taken at The Scout. The rest were from the Historic West Bottoms.)

 

Kansas City Scout View

Historic West Bottoms

 

If you like an urban, historic look (aka lots of massive, slightly disheveled brick buildings and an immaculate bridge), West Bottoms is the place for you! If you are more into textures than trees, this area is truly a must-see. During the day this is becoming a hot spot for locals and visitors alike. On First Fridays (and Saturdays) they bring out food trucks and music and it's the perfect time to go antique shopping, which is what the area is becoming known for. While you're there, be sure to grab a cup of Joe from Blip Coffee Roasters' new space and stop into Restoration Emporium for a creative vibe and inspiration! Okay, now I'll stop being your travel agent and give you more location ideas ;) 

See more from this location.

Loose Park

 

The third largest, but one of the most well-known parks in Kansas City, Loose offers a variety of backdrops including a rose garden with adorable terraces, multiple bridges, a pond with fountains, a variety of tree types and a circular trail around the outside. While I would avoid weekends with beautiful weather, especially before a big event like prom (speaking from experience), even if it is busy, you are practically guaranteed to get some good photos simply because of how big the area it is. It is also centrally located for most people, making it an easy meeting spot (barely South of the Country Club Plaza). 

See more from this location.

And more.                 And even more.

 

Swope Park

Even further south of the Plaza, plus a bit east... Swope Park holds the title of the "largest park in Kansas City." If you just need a lot of space with trees and a few trails, then this is the place for you. There is a small pond/lake, but it isn't nearly as photogenic as others in this city. If you go, I would suggest the Lakeside Nature Center parking lot as a good meeting point for your client. There is a trail to the left of the building that winds down around the back and some open space just past the right side of the building.

See more from this location.

 

 

Antioch Park

Depending on where your client is coming from, you may need something more on the outskirts, rather than right near downtown. Antioch Park is a well spread out park with lots of trees, a pond, bridges, etc for those located more Southwest of the downtown area. 

See more from this location.

 

 

 

 

I look forward to growing this list as I discover new places (and remember all of the ones I've forgotten so far). If you are familiar with KC, do me a favor and leave a comment below with your favorite shooting location! Off the beaten path locations coming soon... while you wait let's throw it back to one of my favorite posts on achieving Bokeh (background blur) in your photos :)

Resources & Inspiration for the Modern Photographer

Since I am a self-taught photographer, much of what I know has come from hours of reading, hours out practicing, and lots of hours stumbling through trial and error in order to learn business practices, shooting and editing techniques, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes what takes the longest is sifting through all of the ‘meh’ articles and videos out there to find the ones that will truly be helpful.

In order to save you some of that time that I know is so precious, I have compiled some resources and a few of my favorite photographers below, hopefully you’ll find a couple of them beneficial and inspirational. If you do, I would love to know which ones you end up using in the comments below!

RESOURCES:

Lynda.com

Lynda.com

Lynda.com is one of my favorite resources. This one does cost for membership, but it has a whole little world full of training for everything, from photography to design, editing, business, marketing and beyond. The courses are often very intensive and detailed so it takes some solid, dedicated time, but I am in love with it so far and can’t wait to learn EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYTHING!!

 

BP4U has amazing resources that can help both your photography and business skills. For example, check out these awesome marketing templates! If you sign up for their email newsletter, they send out lots of discounts and you can stay in the loop on all the most recent items.

The Modern Tog has awesome business and marketing articles for photography.

CreativeLive has a lot of great classes, unfortunately they’re mostly only free if you are able to watch them while they’re live streaming (sorry for those with darn 8-5 jobs, I feel your pain!).

Photography Concentrate is all about photography (obviously) and the business behind it. They have such a cute story and do a great job creating readable, understandable content that is truly helpful.

PhotoShelter has lots of great free guides that they share when you sign up for their email list.

Greater than Gatsby Photoshop Actions - I love actions as they speed up my workflow and I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I edit a photo (you can also record your own actions in Photoshop for this same purpose). Greater than Gatsby actions are the best I have come across so far; combined and used at varying opacities, they really help give photos the ‘wow’ factor!

Mastin Labs Lightroom Presets - These are the best Lightroom presets I have found that help me achieve my style. 

INSPIRATION:

One of my very favorite wedding photographers is Katelyn James Photography. She has an amazing e-newsletter and is as good with the business side of the industry as she is with actually taking photographs! I also love how much of her personal life she shares through her photography: her home, husband, the most adorable puppy, time with friends, etc. It’s fun that I feel like I know her and yet, I’ve obviously never met her. Her business embodies the idea for photography that “you are your brand” and she has a consistent look and feel that compliments that. Her website and blog are also absolutely incredible and interactive...I could spend hours on there!

Brandon from Humans of New York - the coolest street photographer out there, if you haven’t heard of him you’ve probably been living under a rock.

Julie Paisley Photography - consistently gorgeous work, and also she has perfect hair. She shoots film and is amazing at it!

Beyond the Wanderlust - photography blog where they share a lot of different people’s work. It has great inspiration and I love the collaborative feel - it’s like a little community!

Trevor Dayley Photography - professional and consistent and knows what he’s talking about (you can find a lot of his trainings on places like CreativeLive, which is also a great resource).

Ben Sasso - his style is so unique and he shares a lot of tips and tutorials that are very easy to follow and I learn so much every time.

Amy & Jordan - This amazing wedding photography couple is as passionate about education as they are about photographing clients, so they give out so much helpful information and ideas! 

Jasmine Star, Jenna Kutcher... I could just go on forever.

Who are some of YOUR favorite photographers or favorite photography/business resources? I am always looking for more creatives to follow and be inspired by!

Let me know if you fell in love with anything listed here too, I would love to know which ones helped you.

**Kira Whitney

 

Tip of the Day: One Step to Taking Better Photos of Your Kids (or fur-babies)

Sure, you get family photos taken once a year to capture the different stages of your children's’ lives...but you can’t force kids’ emotions and a photographer obviously isn’t around during daily life when they do the darnedest things.  Here is one easy step towards taking better photographs of your children, since you’re there to capture the most true version of themselves! This can be applied no matter what kind of camera you have, whether it’s a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, or a cell phone.

Unless purposely avoided for some artsy reason, the catchlight is possibly the single most important element of portrait photography. It’s the small reflection(s) of the light source in the subject’s eye that gives life to the photo; maybe because it’s what we are subconsciously used to seeing as light bounces off each others’ eyes. Listed below are some more specifics about how to capture the catchlight, but in general it is incredibly simple to achieve.

Indoor

  • Face your kids towards a window to avoid harsh, sideways shadows and get a good catchlight in their eyes. Cloudy days will even out the light and also make for gorgeous skin tones and colors. If it’s too sunny out, white curtains can do an incredible job of diffusing the light as well. The closer to the the window (or even better, a glass door) they are, the softer the light will be; the further away they are from the light source, the harder the light will be. This may seem like a strange concept, but just try it and it will make sense!

Outdoor

  • As I’m sure you’ve heard, early morning and the couple hours before sunset are the best times for outdoor photos. When the sun is close to the horizon, face your subject towards or away from the sun so you don’t get sideways shadows on their faces. I typically arrange them with the sun behind so I don’t get squinty eyes. Once it crosses below the horizon, there are a couple minutes where you can turn them towards the spot where the sun went down to catch the last of the light in their eyes.

  • On cloudy days you can typically still tell where the sun is so if it is just slightly overcast I would position the sun behind (the cloudy sky will act as a light diffuser to light up the eyes) and if it’s too darkly clouded, I face my subject toward the brightest part of the sky.

  • The ground, especially in an open area like a field, can surprisingly act as giant softbox, helping create that catchlight that is so key. If you are in a shady area (helpful when it’s super sunny out), try to face your kids towards a sunlit area, rather than into the shadows.

*Random note: light colored eyes pick up a catchlight much easier. See the two photos below for an example, they were taken in the exact same spot, facing a glass door. You can see it in each of these cuties' eyes, but Hatcher's (right) catchlight is much stronger.


If you find or create that catchlight, not only will your portraits be brought to life, but your focus will be better as well, improving your overall photography. Good luck capturing those sweet little faces in these precious times of life...and feel free to share some photos with me at kirawgoff@gmail.com if you put this tip to use, I’d love to see them!

 

 

 

Shooting in Broad Daylight

It's pretty common knowledge that the best lighting for photography is typically the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.  The light is much softer and less harsh than overhead sunlight in the middle of the day, perfect for skin tones and rich colors. But it would be crazy to think you could always plan your sessions within those time frames; sometimes schedules just don’t allow for it!

At first I was terrified to shoot in broad daylight.  It’s certainly not my favorite still, but a lot of practice has made me more comfortable and and opened up many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. My way is certainly not the ‘right’ way, in fact I’m not sure there is one right way, but here is just what has worked for me so far!

 

Camera Settings

Since you’ll probably have to underexpose a little because of the sun in order to maintain good detail, make sure you’re shooting in RAW so you can easily bring some light back into the dark areas during post processing. Many people also switch from evaluative to spot metering in order to have more control in exposing correctly for the main subject.

I stay around ISO 100, the lowest I can go since there is no need for more sensitivity to light with it being so bright. If I am in the shade I may boost this just a touch, but not much usually.  

While I like to shoot close to wide open (highest aperture) during golden hour, in bright daylight I may switch down a couple f-stops to make sure my whole subject is focused well. You may have heard of the “sunny 16” rule...I like to believe this exists to help understand the concept of aperture (or maybe for landscape focused photography), but I have never gone down that low when shooting people in broad daylight, possibly because I don’t usually want the entire scene to be fully in focus.  I like my subject to ‘pop’ from the background, which calls for a higher aperture.  I usually find myself between the f/2.8-4 range in broad daylight.

Once I have all these settings ready to go, shutter speed is what I adjust the most, as the light changes based on where I position my subject.  Where I start depends on the situation, but it may be around 1/125 or 1/250 with changes from there. Another great option is using aperture priority mode (you set your aperture and ISO and the camera chooses your shutter speed). If it looks too bright or dark, you can find "exposure compensation" in your camera menu and tell it to be brighter or darker. If the camera chooses a shutter speed that is too slow for handheld photography (unlikely if you're shooting in broad daylight), just increase your ISO to force your shutter speed to speed up as well.

 

Positioning

Unless it’s absolutely smack-dab in the middle of the day, the sun won’t be directly above your subject. If it isn’t too bright, you may be able to face them towards the sun and get a catch light in their eyes that way, but most likely (if they are looking at the camera) they’ll just be squinting and shadows will be harsh under their nose and chin. I like to position my subject so the sun is behind them, illuminating their hair. If at all possible, avoid the light coming from the side, as it will result in harsh shadows being cast across their faces.  

If it is the middle of the afternoon and the overhead sun is unavoidable, I like to choose locations with a good amount of shade.  This is a good thing to check out beforehand though because if the trees aren’t very thick (blocking almost all of light in some areas), the shadows cast might be even worse than just shooting out in the open! One of my ‘go-to’ positions is placing someone near the edge of a shaded spot with their face in the shade and the sunlight hitting their hair. If you don’t have many options for shade, you can help avoid harsh shadows on faces by having your subject lean slightly forward, down and toward the camera; too much and it may look awkward, but you’ll be the judge of that!

Lens Flare

Something you may run into with the sun being directly behind your subject is lens flare.  This  can certainly be used creatively, but a sharp, bold look is typically more coveted than a photo that is too washed out. If your lens hood still lets in too much light, you can hold your left hand over the top of your lens while you take the photo to shade some of the sunlight, similar to shading your eyes when squinting on a bright afternoon. I've even seen people (like the famous Scott Kelby) use a hat to shade their lens)!

 

Flash/Fill Light

 I typically don’t use a fill flash/reflector because I often don't have an assistant helping me, but sometimes it is unavoidable.  Especially at events like weddings I don’t have total control over the setting because of location and timing.  For example, during group shots in the middle of the afternoon at one wedding, we had easy access to shade, but so much light was coming through the trees that it was casting tons of small shadows onto the faces of the wedding party. I pulled out my external flash and, by shooting it directly at them, was able to fill in the shadowy areas (see bridesmaids below).

 If the subject is positioned in a shady area facing toward anything dark (ex. a thick forest), I would highly suggest adding fill light.  However, if they are out in the open (ex. a field), the sky and open ground will act as a natural reflector and bounce much of the light coming from behind them back onto their faces. Even so, a reflector or fill light can really make your images look sharper and more professional as it evens out the contrast in the overall image and makes sure to not miss the catch light in the subject's eyes.

 

Make sure to comment below with tips that have helped you conquer shooting in broad daylight!!

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Planning a Photogenic Wedding

Disclaimer: these are not, by any means, things I require of my clients...each wedding should be exactly how the bride has always dreamed and I will support anything she wants to do! These are just tips that I’ve found help make the day go smoothly and help keep the tension at a minimum.

FIRST LOOK

I like to encourage doing  a “first look” so you get as many photos done before the ceremony as possible while you aren’t rushed for time. Reasoning:

  • It will help calm both the bride and groom’s nerves before all the attention is focused on them during the ceremony

  • Guests will appreciate not having to wait an hour for group photos to be done and you will have more opportunity to actually enjoy the event you spent so long planning (not to mention the people who came to support you!).  

  • You will get more (and better) photos as a couple because there is less of a time crunch and more control over the lighting. Speaking of which...depending on the time of the wedding it could allow for more photos to be taken while it’s still light outside

  • You get an intimate moment with your husband before the whirlwind of the ceremony and reception that is sometimes lost if the first time you see each other is coming down the aisle

Getting that emotional response from the groom when they first see their bride walk down the aisle is really important to some, and that is just fine! However, the same response will most likely happen during a first look and you’ll be able to savor it a little more (along with immediately telling each other how good you look instead of having to wait till after the ceremony!). Plus, most grooms still have a splendid reaction as the bride comes down the aisle because that’s when it sinks in that it’s really happening!

NATURAL LIGHT

If not outside, choose a venue that offers lots of natural light. Think about this in choosing which rooms to get ready in as well.  Or if you’re just staging a few getting ready photos before you put on your dress, just plan to move yourself to a well lit room or close to a window.

I do use an external flash when needed, natural light just provides for a much softer light, typically coveted for wedding photos. Flash can also be very distracting during the ceremony if the room is dark. It is a balancing act for the photographer between not detracting from the beautiful service and getting well lit photos that the couple will cherish for years to come.

If the wedding is outside, the best time of day for lighting is the couple hours right before sunset.  This works the best if you do a first look and most of the photos before the ceremony so you aren't pressed for time during bridal party/family photos as the sun sets. 

Photo Coordinator

Designate someone outside the wedding party to read your list of photos during group shots.  They move much quicker and this makes sure that you and your photographer don’t forget to get the shots you really wanted. Especially when it comes to extended family, your photographer doesn’t know who everyone is or if someone is missing from the shot so this is very helpful!

Bridals

If you’re wanting a good amount of bridal shots I would suggest doing a bridal session before the wedding at some point.  The bride is oftentimes so caught up in photos with other people that many shots of just her get easily overlooked.

  • Brides spend so much on how they look for their big day including hair and makeup, nails, the wedding dress, the shoes, etc. Not to mention any extra costs like waxes, teeth whitening, or gym memberships to prepare….or any of the smaller costs like garters and bouquets… plus all the TIME she spends to look her very best! All this to say, not having many individual photos of the bride after so much effort could be something she regrets and it might be worth looking into a bridal session soon before the big day. If you decide not to, just make sure to plan time for some bridals sometime before the ceremony!

Timing

Everyone’s wedding is different and a lot of planning for timing revolves around the people and how ‘on time’ their families typically function. Six hours seems to be an appropriate amount of time for a photographer to cover a usual wedding timeline with a reasonable number of guests and no full meal, from final ‘getting ready’ shots (including the bride putting on her dress) to ‘the exit.’  However, if you want more than a couple preparation shots, have a full meal planned, or expect the dancing to go long before the ‘exit,’ an eight hour or all-day timeline may be more suitable for you. Here are several sample timelines that I’ve seen work well for my brides (and me!).

ENJOY YOURSELF

Breathe, relax, and enjoy your special day..in the end, the worst wedding catastrophe won’t matter because you’ll be married to the love of your life and that’s what counts! Plus, it’s usually the things that go wrong that are the most memorable and make the best stories later in life :)

Have some tips to share? Feel free to comment below!

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Getting Clients to Respond to the Camera

I was at a photography group meeting a few weeks ago and someone expressed interest in how I get people to respond to the camera...I was surprised (and encouraged) because I have never consciously thought about that before. I compiled a short list of tips and tricks that seem to work for me and wanted to share them with you. Be sure to comment below with other things that have worked for you (whether you were the photographer or the ‘model’)!

1) Set the Stage

At the beginning of each session I make sure my clients know to make whatever pose I suggest into something comfortable, even if it involves changing my original idea. If it doesn't feel comfortable to them, it probably won’t look natural in a photo. Obviously if you aren't going for a ‘natural’ look than this doesn't apply! I also tell them to stop me if they see a spot they like or have an idea they’d like to try.  This gives them the freedom to participate in the creative process; plus sometimes people have really awesome ideas that I didn't immediately think of! Definitely balance this with Tip #3 (Take Charge) because you’re the expert and probably understand lighting and composition situations better, but the more interactive your sessions are the more enjoyable they will be for both parties!

If you are shooting a wedding, be sure to spend a little time with the bride and groom before the big day and over-explain what you will be doing/ideas you have to make sure they are comfortable.  This way you inadvertently give them permission to stop stressing about the photos and put their energy into all the other aspects of the day. Also make sure to ask if there are any specific photos that they want and bring the list or snapshot examples (I use my phone) so you don’t forget them.  Chances are the bride will forget most of the shots she wanted since she has so many things to think about that day!

2) Be Friendly

This might seem like an absolute no-brainer, but it involves more than just smiling and nodding like you can sometimes get away with in group situations. If you talk and lead conversations, people stop thinking about how awkward it is to be ‘modeling’ for an hour and start settling into the experience. Tell them how good they look and get excited...truly excited...when you get a perfect shot. While you’re walking around the location ask them questions about their lives and find ways to connect. Become friends and not only will you have a better chance at good referrals, you’ll have a new friend!

3) Take Charge  

Depending on what kind of photography you specialize in, the likelihood of your clients being trained models is probably pretty low. Your clients have seen your work and chose you because they trust your eye and style. While they may have ideas here and there, they want you to make decisions about backgrounds, posing, and timing. Don’t be afraid to try something that doesn't look amazing at first because oftentimes you can adjust to the situation to create something beautiful. Contrastly, don’t be afraid to admit when something just isn't working and move on...there’s no use in wasting time!

4) Share the Excitement

One of the very best tips I can give for getting clients to respond well is to show them some photos on the back of the camera during your session.  It helps people to see what they look like so they can change what they don’t like or simply get pumped to see the final product! The more excited they are the more they will talk to their friends about the experience...and we all know how important word of mouth is in this industry.

Showing little kids their photos on the back of the camera works MAGIC in getting them to respond to the camera. Their attention spans can’t handle smiling at the camera for very long, especially if they’re young enough to not understand what’s actually happening.  My favorite trick with kids is to bribe them with funny faces.  I promise that if they give me their very best smile I’ll let them do a funny face...and then, of course, show them the funny face picture as leverage for another smile.  It’s hilarious how big of a kick they get out of it, plus mom and dad get some realistic photos to cherish ;)


Don’t forget to comment below with tricks that work for you or things that have made you comfortable as a client, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The Importance of Fellowship Among Photographers

    For the first time in my life I am the new girl. I lived in the same house in a small Colorado town until I moved off to college…and that experience didn't even count because everyone is new together then! In an effort to branch out and meet some people, last week I attended a “Photography Group” at a local church.  I must say that I’m glad I went even though it wasn't totally in my comfort zone! I met some incredibly sweet and encouraging people who immediately made me feel at ease. 

    The group hadn’t met all summer so the meeting tonight was held solely to see photos that each person had taken over the last few months.  I have never been in a room so full of people who love the same thing that I do before like that! The leader had made a slideshow with music of all the photos we had previously submitted and we spent 50 minutes just watching it, being inspired, and talking about shots that stuck out to us.  There was nothing revolutionary about it, but it was refreshing to see people from so many different walks of life together because of one common passion. 

    As with most things, I would venture to say “we are better together.”  Photography is about sharing your perspective and capturing memories, but we can learn so much from each other in order to more accurately accomplish our goals!  I am always so happy to see groups like this….I knew of one in Colorado called “Photographers Encouraging Photographers” and I know there are “Shoot and Share” groups in most major areas!! Photography knowledge and ideas aren't meant to be horded and ‘safe-guarded’ from competitors.  Creating fellowship with those very competitors can be one of the most rewarding endeavors for maintaining your passion and inspiring you to continually improve! Not only that but it shows that you have more passion for what you do than passion for the money you make doing it.

    Sometimes when you’re chasing your dreams it feels like you’ll never get there.  As cliché as it is to say, we can’t forget to enjoy the journey though because in the end..that’s really all it is…a journey…and who would want to go on a journey alone! If you support others, there’s a good bet they’ll support you back.

KEEP DREAMING...and don't do it alone!


BOKEH - For Beginners

When I was first getting into the photography world, one of my biggest questions was how to achieve bokeh in my photos. Okay, rewind...what’s bokeh? Only the single greatest discovery ever!! Okay that’s an overstatement, but it’s absolutely one of my favorite things about photography :)

Bokeh comes from a Japanese word meaning “blur quality.”.  A little more specific definition is “aesthetic quality of blur in out-of-focus areas of an image.” Oftentimes, because of the shape of the opening in the lens, the out of focus areas (bokeh) looks like small circles.

This is no new concept, but when I kept running across this word and even understood what it meant, the most frustrating thing was not understanding HOW TO ACHIEVE this effect! Bokeh is determined based on the Depth of Field, the distance (or seeming distance) between the closest and farthest subjects in a scene. Throughout the past few years, I have come to understand 3 basic ways to produce and adjust bokeh and depth of field: aperture, distance of the subject from the camera, and lens focal length.

 

Let’s break down these terms a bit.

  • Aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken and, therefore, how much light is let in to the sensor.  It is characterized by “f-stops” (focal ratio) which describe the ratio of the lens’s focal length (described below) to the diameter of the lens opening. Don’t freak out if you don’t understand this.  It takes practice to really understand how this works in correlation with the other settings on your camera and honestly you don’t have to fully understand it to use it!  I just felt the need to describe it so that you can know what to look for on your camera and eventually realize what is happening when you change certain things. Here is just one more thing to confuse you: the lowest numbers represent the largest apertures, while the largest numbers represent the lowest apertures.  For example, many kit lenses (the usual ‘starter’ lenses that come with SLR and DSLR camera bodies) only open up to f/4, while many (usually more pricey) lenses can go all the up to f/1.2, allowing for better low light shooting and the look of distance between the subject and background.  Just remember: APERTURE = OPPOSITE as far as numbers go. The smaller the number, the larger the opening will be, therefor blurring out the background more. This places more focus on the subject and helps them "pop" from the scene.

    • Random tip - At higher apertures you typically want to be closer to your subject as it affects the range of focus.  For example, a full body shot might not appear fully focused at apertures below 2.8 or so and both eyes on a head shot may not be in focus as wide open as f/1.2 if the plane of focus is not exactly straight on (ex. head tilt).

Canon 60D camera, 50mm lens, f/1.4, 1/80, 100 ISO

 

  • Distance - This one is much easier to understand!  The farther your subject is from the background, the more blurred out the background will be (I wish I had learned this sooner!).  For example, instead of putting a model directly in front of a cluster of trees, try moving them 10, 20, even 50 feet in front and he or she will stand out because of the increased blur that will appear behind them.  

    • Random tip - If the sun is close to setting and you can get some nice backlighting through the trees, the bokeh will have a lovely variety of colors and brightnesses.  This is my favorite situation in which to utilize the wonders of bokeh!!

 

  • Focal length is commonly thought of as the length of a lens.  But in actuality, it is the distance (in millimeters) from the optical center of the lens to the focal point (located on the sensor). Telephoto lenses each have a maximum focal length where it is zoomed in all the way, and a minimum, where it is zoomed out completely.  For example, a 70-200mm lens has a maximum focal length of 200mm and a minimum of 70mm.  With the camera settings the same, telephoto lenses at maximum focal length tend to produce more blur because of their narrow angle of view. This means that you will have to back up (quite far in some cases) in order to zoom in far enough.  

    • Note - the further you zoom in, the more problems you will have with stability, resulting in completely blurry photos. I would encourage you to brace your lens somehow, even if it has IS (Image Stabilization) built in.  Sometimes I crouch down and rest my right arm on my knee as I shoot to prevent shakiness and improve sharp focus.

Contrastly, for a fixed lens (50mm, 85mm, etc), the closer you (the photographer) are to the subject, the more blurred out the background will be. In other words, a wide angle lens (like a 35mm or 50mm) can fit more of a scene into the field of view but naturally detects less distance between objects (deeper focus - more details are sharp and background isn’t as soft/blurred) while the view through a telephoto naturally increases the seeming distance.

Tamron 90mm macro lens on tripod, f/5.6, 2 second shutter speed, ISO 400

Tamron 90mm macro lens on tripod, f/5.6, 2 second shutter speed, ISO 400

 

So...how do you even begin to put these ideas into action?? My suggestion would be to find the “Aperture Priority” on your camera and shoot in it until you get comfortable with the other settings.  What this setting does is automatically set everything except the aperture, the most important setting for creating depth of field and bokeh.  As you increase or decrease the aperture, the shutter speed and ISO will automatically adjust to create a “properly” exposed photograph.  I use quotations for the word properly because there is no one right way to do photography...that’s why it’s a form of art!! But sometimes you have to learn the “rules” of photography before you can understand how to break them creatively...stay tuned for a blog about this!! Once you get comfortable enough with Aperture Priority and you want a bit more artistic opportunity in your shooting, you can switch to Manual!

10 Tips to Improve Your Photography

1) Shoot in RAW

Your camera probably automatically sets to shoot JPEGS, but you should change it to RAW right away.  JPEG, or large format, saves the picture as a snapshot of what is visible.  When you take a photo in RAW, the camera sensor records the actual data of a scene at the time of the exposure.  The best way I understand this is that if you take a photo with a black and white setting on your camera when shooting in RAW, you can change it back into color once it's on your computer...data...get it? This enables much more light, color, and detail to be brought back in post processing.  RAW does take up a lot more memory and you may have to use something like Lightroom or Photoshop Camera RAW to open them in, but it's so worth it to get better quality images! You will typically find the RAW setting under a menu item called "Quality"

2) Learn as much as you can with what you have before buying new equipment

You can do so much more with a simple dslr and inexpensive accessories than you might think.  Once you have some experience with all the settings, begin to understand how everything works, and really PRACTICE shooting a Lot, then begin to think about investing in more lenses, cameras, and lighting equipment.

For example...check out this awesome article with "30 mind blowing images taken with entry-level gear"

3) Make friends with other photographers

I can't stress this one enough.  I'm not going to lie and say that it's always easy to be friends with your 'competition.' but you can learn SO much from each other! Be open to tips and ideas, even if you don't necessarily like their style..it's all a matter of perspective! Also, if other photographers know and respect your work, they are more likely to refer clients to you if they aren't available to do a shoot themselves.

4) Do your best to get the best image you can SOC (straight out of camera)

Editing can really make a photo pop, but if you don't have a good enough image before retouching, you can end up having to spend way too much time editing and may not even be able to "fix" some shots.  The better original quality, the less time you will have to spend and the faster you can share your work with others (one of my favorite parts of photography)!!

5) Only post your favorite photos

You always want to leave people wanting more, rather than looking through an album of the same photos at different angles until they get bored.  I definitely struggle with this because it's tough to leave pictures out when I like so many, but when I look through other people's albums with hundreds of photos, I get bored and usually don't even get all the way through (even if it's just someone's personal photos and not from a photographer). I don't remember the exact number, but one of my idol photographers, Scott Kelby, once said that the number of photos in your portfolio (what you showcase to potential clients or employers) shouldn't be more than 15-25.  If you absolutely have to include another, take one of the other ones out to make room.

 

 

6) Practice the things you are most uncomfortable with

You'll never get better if you only photograph the things or people or lighting you are comfortable with.  For example, I am very comfortable shooting girls in natural light (with my camera of course..), but posing guys and shooting with a flash comes way less naturally to me.  I have finally practiced enough that I don't shy away from shoots that involve this, I gravitate toward them because I always want to do something new and different for me! I now rely on my external flash for weddings where some special moments tend to happen in darker rooms and have learned to use it off-camera for some really fun, creative shots! 


7) Daydream & Collaborate

Many shots that make people think "WOW" don't just happen on their own. Envision an idea, think about the kind of look you want to end up with, and plan accordingly.  Think about things like what time of day, setting, outfits, models, and props...and don't be afraid to recruit help! Some of my favorite shoots only came together because I had help from a local cop friend or asked if I could shoot inside an old antique warehouse.  The worst they could do is say no right? :)

8) Don't be afraid to shoot in public or try something silly

At first I felt really awkward taking photos in public places because of the weird looks we got, but now I'm just used to it and it doesn't bother me.  One time my brother and I dragged his entire drum set out into the middle of a field with a trail next to it and I took some photos of him playing at like 8:00 in the morning.  Needless to say, we got some strange looks from people walking by but it was totally worth it when the photos turned out cool! Another time I did a fitness shoot for a girl in the middle of a crazy busy gym in Oklahoma City.  It was still a little awkward taking up people's work out space with my light and everything...but again..SO WORTH IT.

9) Don't stop shooting!

So you don't have people booking you? Well don't use that as an excuse to stop taking photos.  My favorite shoots typically end up being the ones I do for myself!! You have so much more creative opportunity when you come up with an idea and make it happen than you do when shooting for a client who has specific ideas about what they want.  Just like any talent or ability, it fades if it isn't exercised... constantly HONE your skill!

 

10) COMMUNICATE

In this field, communication is incredibly important! If a client doesn't feel like they are in close contact with you or can't trust that you will answer questions and concerns quickly and fully, you will lose loyalties.  Then after sessions, communicate your work to the world! There are obviously ALWAYS more ways to do this, but start with what you know and expand from there.  Think about web mediums that you may not have before: Pinterest, Email newsletters, etc. and then think about how impactful it would be to place physical print products in people's hands to give your business tangibility. What other creative ways can you come up with to share your work with the world?? It is about art.  It is about capturing memories and emotions.  But it is also about communication and reliability.

Create. Connect. Captivate.