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 at events and we also have a few casual questions asking more about me. All of them were a blast to answer and I want to thank you all for sending them in. So now it's time to give back to you! I hope you enjoy this first Q&A blog.
"What brought your passion for photography?"
- David, Sacramento CA
Hey David! 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. That title always sounded funny to me because it was just an stuffy government way to say that I was a dude taking pictures. Anyways, my job was to travel all over the Louisiana coastline and to photograph and report any bad situations that I could find, like oil in the water, oiled birds, damaged equipment, etc. Then, after I called it in, a clean up crew would come out to work on what I found.
After 3 months of doing this I saw many beautiful and terrible things, like poor oil covered animals or gorgeous sunsets shining through the bayou trees. I also met many different people from all different backgrounds and learned a lot about the Cajun culture. It was a mixed bag of emotions, and I started to connect with them far more intensely than I expected when I looked at them through the camera. The experiences were more focused, more personal, and as a stone-faced military guy I was very surprised by how it made me feel. I wanted to see where this would go so I eventually 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 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, and after completing my 3-year program I began my business in 2015. Since then I have continued to use my camera to keep expanding my knowledge and perspective 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 its 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 my strobe. Even if your light already has a modifier on it, placing a collapsible diffuser, a large skrim, 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 it to a person's skin tone.
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 brightest spots within the photos. This tool doesn't replace the need for proper lighting in a photo but it does help polish it up.
Last but not least, shooting in RAW and not JPEG can also help fight against highlights. RAW files capture a much larger range of tonality than JPEGs which means it will reduce the amount of highlights it records and will allow you to retrieve more underlying skin in Photoshop.
"Hi Jason. I occasionally shoot events and simply don't know how to effectively use the flash. I have Nikon gear."- Aniko, Sacramento CA
Hi Aniko, I'd be happy to share some tips! First off, the most important thing to remember about 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 (ambient light like sunlight, light bulbs, etc). With that being said, you'll need to control each light source separately. I usually shoot in Manual Mode to get the best results. To control the ambient light, use your camera's shutter speed, and to control the flash brightness, use your camera's aperture and flash power output. I like to layer these two light sources on top of one another. I'll first take an exposure for the ambient light in order to set my shutter speed, and then I'll add the flash afterwards.
When it comes to shaping your light, its usually best to avoid pointing your speedlight directly at your subject. Direct light looks harsh and can make a person's face look featureless and flat. Instead, I like to use the "bounce flash" technique. To do this, place your subject near a white wall 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 recent 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 there are no surfaces to bounce off of, then direct on-camera flash might be your only option. For this I recommend switching your flash to ETTL Mode (for Canon) or ITTL Mode (for Nikon). This allows the camera and flash to work together to automatically set the exposure. You'll notice a small flash go off before the main shot is taken and that is the camera taking a reading of the scene before it takes the photo.
For direct on-camera flash photography I would also 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! I love photography so much that I don't actually have any other creative outlets. Back in high school I played guitar a ton and thought I was going be the next band member for Metallica, but after my first camera got in my hands that guitar went down for good. Nowadays if I'm not working I'm usually just exploring the world and recharging my batteries. I love hiking, fishing, kayaking and road trips, and on rainy days I'll simulate that by playing adventure games (Zelda and Skyrim, baby!). I also really like meeting new people so I go to a lot of cultural events, breweries, and concerts.
As for putting my work down, I've always had a hard time doing that. In fact, that's probably what I've struggled with the most ever since I first began photography. In the beginning it was because I was a perfectionist and wanted to create the best images I could, but later it came from me worrying about business tasks and making my clients happy. I learned the hard way that that mentality just can't last 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 just had to accept that I can't do everything and that there's a time and place for creating the best pictures. 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 planned then you'll be better prepared and create for more meaningful 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! In my experience I've learned that people usually become uncomfortable in front of the camera because of self-doubt, so during my shoots I like to relate to my subject and help raise their confidence.
One of my favorite ways to boost someone's confidence is to compliment them and remind them of their best traits. We are our worst critics and sometimes hearing what makes us great from another person can really mean a lot. I usually start with some lighthearted conversation, and as it progresses, I'll eventually ask what their hobbies and dreams are. I love learning about what gives people drive and showing them some genuine enthusiasm towards that can really make them feel better. I'll also try to find ways to incorporate what I've learned into the photo so I'm presenting the truest side of them that I can.
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 blemishes, 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 how their weight, then explain that I'll 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 skill set to make that happen.
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 just a few examples of how I like to help someone feel better during a shoot, 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.
Thank you again to everyone who sent in questions for this first Q and A blog! Answering your questions in more detail and in this format was a very fun experiment and I would really like to do this again! Perhaps I'll make a video blog for the next one? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Also, feel free to tell me how these tips have helped in your new creative journeys. I'm a sucker for good photography stories.
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