Photography Q&A

March, 2019

Photography Q&A Session with Jason

A few weeks ago I asked everyone following my social media pages if they had any questions they'd like me to answer in my first Q&A Blog, and the submissions were fantastic! We have some technical questions like how to use flash photography and how to remove obnoxious highlights from skin, we also have some personal questions asking more about me. All of them were a blast to answer and I want to thank everyone who participated for sending them in. So now it's time to give back to you! Enjoy!

"What brought your passion for photography?"

- David, Sacramento CA

My passion for photography began back in 2010 when I was in the Coast Guard and working in the Gulf of Mexico. I had just volunteered to help with the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup, and when I arrived I was given a camera, a radio, and a new title called Field Observer. My job was to travel all over the Louisiana coastline and to photograph and report any bad situations that I could find, like oil slicks in the water, effected wildlife, damaged equipment, etc. Then, after I called it in, a clean up crew would come out to work on what I found. 

Fast forwards to doing this for few a months and I saw a wide variety of both beautiful and terrible things, like seeing oil covered animals and islands then at the next moment seeing pristine, untouched bayous and oceans I also met many different people from all different backgrounds and learned a lot about the Cajun culture. It was a big bag of experiences and emotions, and what surprised as it continued me was just how intensely I bonded to those experiences when I looked at them through a lens. Everything was more focused and personal. It was like I had a personal attachment and responsibility to each photo I took and I had a hand in their narrative. I wanted to see how far this sensation would go so I while I was there I bought a second point-and-shoot camera for myself that I could practice with in between my missions.

When my deployment was over I returned home with a newly awakened artistic side. Life was suddenly far more open and creative than I had ever known, and all of the serious/uniformed boundaries of my military life were quickly blown away. I bought a proper DSLR camera and signed up for photography classes at Sacramento City College, finished my military career with an honorable discharge, and after completing my 3-year photo program I began my business in 2015. Since then I've continued to use my camera to keep expanding my horizons and learn more about the world, just like how it did for me when I was in Louisiana. 

"I sometimes have issues with certain highlights appearing in the model's face and I can't seem to get rid of it, even with deep parabolic umbrellas. If I drop the power too low the subjects get too dark. If I put it a little higher, the white light appears. Sometimes I'll try to pull the light back a lot, and use zoom on the light to isolate it to the subjects, but still get the white highlights. Any advice for this?"

- Geoph, San Francisco, CA

Hey Geoff! Your instinct to change the exposure in order to remove the highlights is a great idea, however keeping your light near the subject is also important because moving it away can flatten it out and reduce the lighting quality. There are some other ways that these highlights can be removed so I'll try to list as many remedies as I can. 

One of my favorite ways to soften highlights is to stack additional layers of diffusion in front of the strobe. Even if your light already has a modifier on it, placing a collapsible diffuser, a large scrim, or a silk sheet in-between the light and the subject will make a big difference. Also a fun fact about that, the closer that you move the diffusion to your subject, the softer the light will get. 

The highlights might also be coming from oily, reflective skin. To combat this, bring some matte powder makeup to your shoots as well as a few clean makeup wedges or sponges that it can be applied with. Just make sure to buy a few different shades of the powder so you can properly match the to different peoples' skin tones.

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There are also some ways to remove the highlights in Photoshop. One of my favorite ways to edit them out is by using the selective color layer. Go to "Layer", then "New Adjustment Layer" and select "Selective Color". After that you'll see a variety of color options to target. Select "white" and then move the black slider to the right. You'll notice that when you move the slider it will target the brightest spots within the photos. This adjustment with effect all the the highlights within the photo, so if you need to isolate it then just make a mask. Curves are also a great option too. Open a curves layer, and then grab the top right highlight indicator of the curve and pull it down.

"Hi Jason. I occasionally shoot events and simply don't know how to effectively use the flash. I have Nikon gear."

- Aniko, Sacramento CA

I'd be happy to share some tips! First off, the most important thing to remember when using a flash at events is that you're introducing a second light source into a scene that probably already has some existing light within it. This could be any kind of light no matter how faint, like: sunlight, light bulbs, etc.. In order to get a well balanced photo you'll first need to focus on controlling that ambient light before the flash is used. 

To control the ambient light, shoot a random photo of your nearby environment in manual mode and adjust your camera's shutter speed to make it even and balanced. For quality's sake, also keep your ISO low (preferably somewhere between 100 to 400). After that, have your subject enter the frame, turn on your flash and fire it. Look at the resulting photo and you'll notice that the ambient light will reside in the background of the photo, while the shorter reaching strobe will dominate the foreground and fall onto your subject. 

If the strobe light is too bright on the subject then you can turn down the flash's power output or close down your aperture, and if the background is too bright then speed up your shutter speed. In short, this process, is called "layering" where you've now layered the light sources on top of one another, and with the settings I mentioned you can control both light sources simultaneously. 

Shaping the light so it falls onto your subject in a flattering way is also an important element. It's usually best to avoid pointing your speedlight directly at your subject because it can look harsh and can make a person's face look blown out, featureless and flat, so instead, I like to use the "bounce flash" technique. To do this, place your subject near a light colored wall (preferably light gray or white) and fire the flash so that it bounces off of the wall and then towards the subject. You'll notice that the light will be much softer and the subject's features will be better sculpted. You can also do this with a white ceiling if one is low enough for the flash to reach. 

Here is the diagram for a basic event photo that I took while using bounce flash. There was a wall on the left side of the subject off camera. 

If you find yourself shooting in a space where it's not best to use the bounce flash technique, then direct on-camera flash might be your only option. In that scenario I would highly recommend buying a bounce diffuser from B&H Photo Video. Bounce diffusers are very cheap and can really help clean up the light quality. 

What other creative outlets were you pretty serious about? Or still are? Do you feel like you take work everywhere or do you do a good job of putting work down when it's done?

- Justin, Sacramento CA

Hey there, Justin! To tell you truth I'm so in love with photography that I've never pursued any other creative outlets in a serious manner. Every once in a while I'll pluck around on a guitar, paint, or draw, but those are sporadic and have never ensnared me in the same way that photography does. Instead, on my free time I'm usually just exploring the world and taking in as many experiences as possible. I love hiking, fishing, kayaking and road trips, and on rainy days when I'm not able to go out I'll simulate my adventure by reading fantasy books or playing video games like Zelda. I really like meeting new people too so I also go to a lot of cultural events, breweries, and concerts.

As for putting my work down, I used to have a had a hard time doing that. In fact, that's probably what I struggled with the most when I first began my business. In the beginning it was because I was a perfectionist and wanted to create the best work I could, and I was also worried about proving myself and finding the meaning of "success." I later learned though that that mentality just can't last forever if you want to stay happy and healthy. For me it got to the point of having anxiety and losing sleep! In the end, I learned to believe in myself more and define my own standards for quality and success, and I also learned that I can't do everything all at once. If you shoot too often then you spread yourself thin and miss more opportunities then you can capture, but if you take your time and shoot when its right then you'll be better prepared and create more well thought  and longer lasting material.

What's one common thing you do to get subjects to open up or get comfortable?

- Scott, Sacramento CA

Hey Scott! I know this might not be the most shocking answer, but in my experience the best way to help people open up is to be genuine, be positive, and talk to them. Everyone (regardless if they want to admit it or not) has a social inner self, and with the more conversation and positivity you share with that person the more they'll trust you to show it. 

If someone is nervous about their appearance, then I'll let them know that I understand their situation and can relate. We all have insecurities, so instead of leaving them hanging there I'll join in and show that I have some too. If they're worried about their looks or blemishes, then I'll show them my wort on my eyebrow and explain that I remove it from my face in Photoshop all the time. If they're worried about their weight, then I'll explain that I trim down my stomach in Photoshop too. Overall, it's important to let people know that you're human too, that you're here to help them look their best, and that you have the skills to make that happen. 

I also like to keep that talking throughout the entire shoot. As the model is standing in front of the camera they might not have any idea how good the shots look or how they look, so I'll keep them

Even if the subject is already comfortable in front of the camera it never hurts to have a motivational warm-up. I'll still take the time to compliment the person and lighten the mood. Learn more about them, do something goofy, say some jokes, and just have a good time. 

These are all just a few examples, but overall what I'm getting at is that I like being the emotional support that my subjects need. As photographers, we are the leaders of the shoot and its up to us to tranform any negative emotions into positive ones.

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Thank you again to everyone who sent in questions for this first Q and A blog! Answering your your inquiries in more detail and in this format was a very fun experiment and I would really like to do this again! Have any more questions for me that you'd like to have answered in the future? Leave a comment below!

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