Sunsets and Seniors

I set out to do a senior portrait the other day with the lovely Alyssa. She had actually just helped me shoot an engagement series, and the whole time I told her she’d be getting the best light if we waited. Under a perfectly clear sky, we picked out a nice location and then just waited out the sun. When it was still bright, I had a bit of difficulty autofocusing on her, so I switched to manual focus. I’m pretty much blind, but I thought I was doing ok, until I showed her some previews and she promptly replied with, “That’s blurry.” Yikes, she was right! By then, the contrast of the sun had subsided, and autofocus had no trouble locking on, but I had to hustle to capture as much as I’d missed before we lost the afterglow entirely. But we were pretty pleased with the end result.

Tech: Canon 7D Mark II; Sigma 17-50 f2.8 @28mm, f3.5; 1/250, ISO 125; Canon 580 EXII; Canon 430 EXII.


A Dancer, a Hula Hoop, and the Moon


Sometimes concepts work as planned, sometimes they go awry, and other times, they just keep getting better as the session progresses. Here is one such case of the latter.

I recruited the super-talented Ariana to help me attempt to fulfill the concept of a light-up hula hoop at night with some subtle strobe lighting. This was pretty much a standard-recipe night shoot, except for the glowing hula hoop that we wanted to add. So the balance between ambient light and strobe had to be a delicate balance, or it wouldn’t work, and the shutter speed had to be dialed down enough to blur the hoop. It had been a beautiful sunny August day, but then as we were gathering up our stuff to do the shoot, rain came. Luckily, most of the rain passed to the east, so our very brief shower was pretty short-lived. As the darker clouds moved out, the lighter clouds followed, providing just enough blue pastel to provide an interesting canvas. While I was hoping for some pink, the blue cast was quite lovely. We got everything into place and then awaited enough darkness to give the glowing hoop some contrast. I decided to point the camera to the southwest, to catch a little of the afterglow of the setting sun.

After a good bit of trial-and-error, I settled in on f8, with exposures ranging from 1 second to 4 seconds, at ISO 100. This provided just the amount of blur from the hoop that I wanted. Then I lit Ariana with a Canon 430 EXII Speedlite at about 60°, triggered by a Canon 580 EXII on-camera. I fired them at ETTL the entire time, with ratios of 1:4-1:8 fill/main. Toward the end of the shoot, I opened up the aperture to f6.3 for some consistency. As the clouds started moving through, the big surprise was a wonderful crescent moon suddenly appearing over Ariana. We were both quite pleased with the results; what you see here is a very small representation of the shots we got.

Tech: Canon 40D, Sigma 17-50mm f2.8, Canon 430 EXII, Canon 580 EXII; f6.3-8, 1-4 sec., ISO 100; flash 1:4-1:8 ETTL ratio.

Behind the Scenes: Gina & Nick

When my friend Gina asked me to do some engagement photos with her fiancé Nick, I was more than happy to help out. But when our schedules worked out to shooting during peak daylight hours on a Sunday, I was less than enthusiastic about the lighting options, but definitely up for the challenge. My favorite shot of the day was actually shot at high noon. We had found this neat little spot along my favorite creek. While they were in shade, there were still hotspots coming through the tree branches from the bright noon sun above. There was also at least 3 stops of variation between the light out on the creek and the light under the tree.

Gina & Nick

So the first thing I did was to set a manual exposure for the brightest area, where the unobstructed sunshine hit the creek. Of course, this rendered Gina and Nick as total silhouettes, so to compensate, I broke out the handy Canon Speedlites. I mounted a 430EX II on a light stand with  shoot-through umbrella. With the light stand tilted just right, the shoot-through umbrella actually worked as a scrim to block the sunlight through the tree branches that was causing he hotspots. Triggering the 430EX II was a 580EX II mounted on the hotshoe. This provided frontal fill, using a ratio of around 1:4 against the 430. Final editing consisted of taming down the highlights a little in RAW edit, and some desaturation.

The Dress Color Conundrum

BBi15GTI’m not quite sure what all the fuss is about this dress lately, but it would seem that there are a lot of people who have trouble with color relationships and white balance issues. Here are my observations from the perspective of a photographer. I have done a lot of product photography over the past 20 years, and there are times when proper color rendering is of the utmost importance. So these are things I have dealt with on a daily basis.

At first glance, I can see that this is a photo of a dress that was shot in the shade on a bright, possibly cloudless, day, or possibly in a brightly-lit room. Either way, there is obviously a very wide disparity in the dynamic range within the scene, with a wide range in color cast. Modern digital cameras all have built within them something called “white balance.” Sometimes this feature can be adjusted, sometimes not. If this photo was shot with a smart phone camera, chances are good that there was no manual white balance adjustment available, nor presets, therefore the shooter was left to the mercy of the built-in camera to get it right, or maybe close, to reality. The problem is, the natural color cast in shade on a sunny day leans toward blue. Here’s what my eyes see, immediately: A likely white fabric with a blue cast on it that is caused by improper white balance. Now, let’s pull it into Photoshop and see what we can find out.

To the non-photographers out there, let me explain a few things. In the digital world, colors are expressed with hexadecimal values; pure black is expressed as 000000, and pure white is ffffff. Everything else is somewhere in between. So let’s take our Photoshop eyedropper in the color picker and see what it sees on the dress. Clicking on the brightest area of the lighter-colored fabric, we see that the color is represented as a very pale shade of blue. This is just what I’d suspect, given the assumption that this was shot in the shade and the auto white balance allowed a blue cast. The fact that there is blue detected in the vicinity does not necessarily indicate that the dress is blue.

dress-1Now, just for comparison, let’s try to find some pure white. See that really bright spot in the upper-right corner? Yep, it’s pure white; notice the ffffff indicated in my color palette.

dress-2But do you notice something? Our eyedropper finds that there is also red in the vicinity. This does not mean that our bright sky (or background) is red. Now, let’s go back to the dress… I clicked the eyedropper on a different area of the dress, not really very far from the one with the blue cast, and now I see a purple cast. Does this mean the dress is purple? No, just that the red cast that’s out there in the open area is influencing the fabric, blending with the blue cast, and creating a purple cast. (This is easily accomplished when the palette  you start with is white.)

dress-3My conclusion: the fabric is white. Now, let’s look at the other color, the trim, which is either gold or black, depending on how you see it. No matter where I click my eyedropper, I get a shade of gold. It’s pretty gray in the darker areas, but it’s gold-biased, and not what I’d consider black. (Notice I left pure black on the color picker’s new/current square, for comparison.) Could it be a cast from another source? I don’t think so; I think the fabric itself is gold. If it were a cast from elsewhere, we’d be seeing gold in the main fabric, and we are not.

dress-4dress-5What’s my final conclusion? This dress in this photo is white with gold trim, or at the very least, pale blue with gold trim. If you believe otherwise, you will never, ever edit my photos for me.

Recorded Light!

Welcome to my newly-redesigned site! My goal is to be more interactive and share a lot more how-to tips and articles, and to also keep folks updated on what I’m doing and where I’m shooting.God's Ice Sculptures

Why Recorded Light? Well, when you break it down, all we photographers do is record reflected light onto a medium. In the old days, that medium was silver halide film. Now it’s recorded by a digital sensor and saved on a tiny flash memory card. Within the past 10 years, we entered into an incredible age of photography, with a quantum leap bigger than the invention of film itself. These are magical times, and I hope you all share my enthusiasm as we journey ahead in search of the magic!