Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework Follow Up: Posing #2; Expression

Welcome to part 2!

This is how I work. I believe that this will translate for many photographers and clients because this is what I've learned by experience as a photographer over the past 8 or so years, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other ways to get things done that will be effective. Much of this advice will still apply to those who shoot more candid photos, though obviously the more controlled posing is genre specific.

There is so much to learn about posing that it would be impossible to tackle it all in one blog post. The first blog post about posing focused on the fundamentals and that leans heavily toward posing the body.  Once the fundamentals are learned, there are a million other things to tackle when posing a person such as what to do with their hands or what angle to turn or tilt the head; but those are all things that can be fine tuned once you've mastered the foundational principles. What you need to learn about posing now, because you'll be working to master it your whole career, is how to capture expression.

Body language is a big deal in portraiture. We read it in people every day, almost like a second language that everyone knows but few people ever take the time to think about. As portrait photographers, you must take that time because what you capture is frozen forever to be stared at and nit-picked. Start paying attention to people around you and note what they do with their bodies. As a a voracious reader and someone who has always loved to write, I've learned to pay attention to body language because it's also a fundamental way writers communicate what their characters are thinking and feeling.
Picture this person in your head: she's shifted her weight to her right leg and she has her arms folded over her chest, the toe of her left foot tapping against the ground.
What impression would that person's body language give you? Impatience, maybe?
Picture this person: his fists are balled at his sides, shoulders tense, as he braces his feet apart and lowers his head.
What impression, now? Anger?
One last example: she stands on her toes with her feet apart, chest lifted up to the sky with her arms stretched heavenward and thrown wide, her face turned up toward the sun.
How would you imagine she felt? Joyful, perhaps?

Body language communicates so effectively without the benefit of speech that when you are taking a portrait, the subject's body language will speak volumes about how they feel. You need to learn to pay attention and direct their body into a pose that will communicate what the intention of the portrait is and that extends right to the expression on their face. We could do the same imagination exercise with facial expressions that we did with body language but I don't think it's necessary. Most people can read anger, discomfort, anxiety, joy, contentment, jealousy, or love on someones face.  If you want to test it and see how well you can interpret the expression in someone's eyes, you can take this test by the New York Times for fun. If you didn't score very well, consider studying people just a bit more. Just for reference I got a 33 out of 36, so I was pretty impressed with myself!

Expression and body language come together to give the viewer a clear picture of how the subject of a portrait is feeling. Your job, as a portrait photographer, is gain expression from your subject.
In order to do that effectively, you need to earn your subjects trust. You need to make them comfortable around you. They need to see you.

Most of time, portraits are intended to show someone comfortable and at ease, as they would be with old friends. That's what we're going to focus on. If you intend to capture fine art portraits then your methods might need to differ but most of what I'm going to say about connecting with your subject should still apply.

One of the fastest and most natural ways to build trust with your subject is to get to know them. Talk to them. Ask them about themselves and tell them about yourself. Feel free to throw in an embarrassing personal story if you want, one that will show them that you are human, too. If someone can laugh with you as your laugh at yourself, you've broken the ice. The key here is not to find some contrived method, but to be yourself genuinely. Be interested in your subject and be honest with them. Not only does that make you a human being with whom they can connect and not just a big ol' scary looking lens, but it also helps YOU to find interest and empathy so that when you're shooting you are truly invested in capturing something authentic about who your subject is.

There are many people who are just not comfortable in front of the camera. This could be for any number of reasons. I've talked to many photographers who start to panic inside because they can't get the expressions they were hoping for. They have a hard time getting their client to relax or give more than one bland expression and, instead of taking a step back and trying to figure out WHY their subject is less than comfortable and address that, they just keep shooting in fear that if they reveal their frustration it will damage their subjects trust in their ability to get a great photo.This will not work. I know that from personal experience.

The one time I've ever had a client who wasn't happy with their expression in a photograph, it was because it was a last minute shoot and I didn't take the time I should have taken to get to know her better. If I had, I would have known that she is a smiler, someone who sees themselves as a happy person and didn't feel that her features represented who she was if they weren't happy. Score one for me, who took a look at her inspiration for the shoot and interpreted that she wanted something sultry. That was MY fault, not hers. As a portrait photographer, I know that it's not my clients job to look great for the camera or be photogenic, it's MY job to get great images of my clients that they connect with and love. If I had followed my own advice, it wouldn't have happened.

Personal example #2: I took the professional portraits for a company in Olympia. This company, a CPA firm, would need portraits of their employees that made the subjects look professional, competent, trustworthy and approachable. One of the ladies I was supposed to photograph was naturally very tense in front of the camera. Some people have a difficult time smiling naturally while having their portrait taken, and she was one of them. I started by chatting with her and playing with my lights a bit. Not because I needed to fix the light, but because I wanted to give her some time to loosen up in front of the lens. She was a gorgeous lady with big blue eyes and a chic, salt-and-pepper bob. I complimented her on her eyes. I made a few jokes. I told her that her outfit would be perfect for the portrait. She seemed comfortable enough with me, but as soon as I brought that camera up, her expression stiffened and her lips thinned and her shoulders got tense. No matter what I tried, and I even broke out the threat of poop jokes, I couldn't get her to relax for me.
Finally, I pulled my trump card: I asked her about her family. She has a daughter in college, of whom she is very proud. Her daughter plays music. I chatted with her while my camera was at the ready, asking about her girl and what she was studying. I watched as her eyes softened, as the tension relaxed from around her mouth, as her shoulders began to relax. That's when I fired off a few more shots. By the end of the shoot I had gotten exactly what I needed to capture from my subject. When she left the room I overheard her say to her boss, "she's good," and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I was relieved not only because I knew I got the shot I needed but because I want the folks I work with to have a great time in front of my lens.

Practical Tips:

  •  Talk. Talk, talk, talk and don't stop talking. Photograph while you talk. 
  • Give praise. Pepper your conversation with praise words when your subject is getting it right.
  • Always give direction to perfect the pose. Most of the people you photograph will not be models who can keep their body under control for long periods of time. They're going to shift or turn or do something that changes the pose you've worked so hard to get right. As you're talking and photographing, correct their pose.
  • Use hand gestures as examples of what you'd like your client to do. You can ask them to tilt their head or bring their eyes to a certain point or turn their chin or angle their shoulders and use your hand as a visual example for what you mean.
  • Take your time. It's okay to stop what you're doing for a second and chat or make a joke as long as you're always communicating and keeping your subject comfortable. Comfort = trust and trust = better photographs.

Practical Example:

This is how you might sound while working with a client. Keep in mind that you should be working the entire time. That doesn't mean you are taking 8 million photos in 4 seconds, but you should be paying close attention to expression and body language and pressing the shutter when your subject is giving you what you need.

"Did you really say that? Man you're brave, I don't think I could have said that! Turn your shoulder toward me just a bit. Perfect. Can you give me a bit of a smile? Oh come on, give me a real one, don't make me break out the poop jokes. Ah, there it is! These are looking amazing, Joe. Can I have you drop your chin just a bit for me? Right there, stop. Ahh, that was the shot! So what did he say when you told him?"

If you sound anything like that then you are truly directing the shoot, keeping your subject comfortable, and getting genuine expression.

It's important to note that nothing is fail safe. No two people will react or behave the same way in front of the camera. That's why you need to talk to people, and always be working on being a communicator. Get to know your clients as much as possible so you can find the best way to suit them. Be your authentic self and it will help them to be theirs for you.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework: Posing

There is always something new to learn and ways to increase your mastery of any particular area of photography. Most photographers are life-long studiers of light. You can learn new things about composition every day, if you're so inclined. What is nice about many of the areas of photography is that you can learn these things on your own time.
One of the areas of portrait photography that people find the trickiest to master is posing. Posing is difficult simply because it does require directing another person to move their body in ways that wont always make sense to them and might even feel uncomfortable. The important thing is to learn as much as you can because knowledge equals confidence and if you are confident in giving your subject direction, they will trust you and trust = comfort and comfort = better portraits.

If you've been following along, you should have been able to download The Foundations of Boudoir Posing. That is a great primer to introduce you to the fundamentals of posing. In the next few paragraphs I am going to introduce the concepts that are fundamental to posing, found in the The Foundations, and then expound on those a bit.

It is very important to note first that the camera and lens do not see the way the human eye sees. The camera sensor and the construction of the lens actually alter the appearance of your subject. Wide angle lenses tend to exaggerate distance so that the part of the subject that is closest to the lens will appear larger and the parts that are furthest from the lens appear smaller. This can be used to your advantage if you use it carefully BUT it's not generally recommended because it can also distort your clients face. It makes perfect sense if you think about the fact that a face is rounded so whatever part of the face is closest to the lens is going to appear to be stretched toward the  viewer. 85mm is generally considered a "portrait" length because it does away with the distortion and renders the face closer to what the human eye sees.

The 4 Ps of Posing

Posing can be looked at like a standard recipe. There are a few ingredients that you know you will always need in order to make the dish but, to an experienced cook, the variations on the recipe are endless. Just think about how many different ways there are to make a cookie!
The same concept applies to posing. There are some basic fundamentals that every pose is built on and that will work for every individual. Once you've mastered those, you can begin to add variations that will make each pose specific to each individual you photograph.

#1: Position

Position is the part of the pose when you direct your subject to move their body into a position that is compositionally interesting the also flattering to their physique. If you look back at the FS post on composition, you'll remember that negative space defines shape, which is a key in positioning the body. You want to define a shape that is flattering to your subject. The best way to do this is to think of the body in triangles.
For men, the most important triangle is the shoulder to hip, with the widest part being at their shoulders. It's a masculine, angular shape. For women, it's a double triangle with the widest part being the shoulders and hips and the narrowest part being at the waist line, which creates an hourglass. Women have the additional bonus of a third triangle between the hip and knees which, when posed correctly, produces a lovely S curve that is flattering to any feminine shape no matter what size.

When you're positioning your client, pay attention to the triangles you are creating in their body. Arms and legs contribute to the composition and can either be posed inside the body line, such as in the example above, or outside the body line to create additional triangles. A hand on the hip, a bent leg, thumbs hooked through belt loops or hands on the waist all create triangles that leave negative space between the arm and the body to help define the shape of the body. The only thing you have to be careful of in that circumstance is to keep the limbs from pointing directly AT the camera, which foreshortens the limbs making them appear shorter and sometimes larger in proportion to the rest of the body. That helps to tie us nicely into P number 2.

#2: Perspective

Something I mention in The Foundations of Boudoir Posing is that "the right pose from the wrong perspective is the wrong pose." It's important to remember that. You can direct your subject into a very compositionally interesting and flattering pose, but if you photograph it from the wrong angle it's going to become awkward. This is why I mentioned above that whatever is closest to the camera is going to look largest.
A good rule of thumb is that whatever you want to make appear larger should be pushed toward the camera and whatever you want to appear smaller should be pushed away from the camera. That's why you will almost always here a portrait photographer telling their female clients, "put all your weight on your back foot." That pushes the hips backward, thus making the hips and tush appear smaller, and allows the front knee to bend and give that third triangle to create an S shape.
If whatever is closes to the camera appears larger, and you shoot from a high angle, what part of your subject is closest to the camera? Their face. Which means the face will appear larger and body smaller. If you client has broad shoulders and a narrow hip and you have them push their shoulders toward you and the hips away from you, that is going to exaggerate the difference.
Find a perspective that keeps the focus where you want it but doesn't distort the body so that it falls out of proportion. Chances are that if you're standing at a certain angle when you're posing someone, that's the angle you should be photographing them from. Be careful if you decide to move up or down or to the right or left because you've changed your perspective and there's a good chance that you will now need to direct your subject to alter their pose in order to compensate for that.

#3: Proportion

Proportion and perspective are tied together because of the nature of the camera/lens and also by the way our brains interpret distance.
Things that are father away appear smaller. Which is why tourists can take photographs that look like they're holding the Eiffel Tower. That is why I gave the advice to push whatever you want to appear smaller away from the camera. The Question is, how do you know what you want to appear smaller?
Consider what is classically considered the proper proportion for the human body. The general proportion is that the human body is just about 8 heads high. The distance from the top of the head to the hip is considered proportionally pleasing when it is roughly equal to the distance from the hip to the feet. For men, the shoulder should be the widest point on the body. For women, the waistline should be the narrowest with hip and shoulder wider.
There are a million variations on that guideline since there are a million beautiful body types, but that general guideline will provide a rule of thumb because if any part of the body is very clearly out of proportion then the eye will be drawn to that part. You can usually see something that is out of proportion right away. After all, the hand shouldn't appear larger that the head, right? If a body part or section of the body is out of proportion, then you can alter the above 2 P's, perspective and position, in order to compensate. To make the body appear longer and leaner, you can shoot from a lower perspective which lengthens the body. You just have to make sure that the head doesn't look comparatively smaller. Remember what I said about changing perspectives and altering pose? If you shoot from a low angle to lengthen the body, you might need to ask your subject to bend just enough to bring their face closer to the camera so that it dones't appear too small and stays in proportion to the rest of the body.
Want the hips and tush to appear a bit larger? Have the client put their weight on their front leg and push their hip toward you. This requires you to think and pay close attention to proportion but, as a portrait photographer, that's part of your job.

#4: Participation

Participation is the part of the posing process that ties everything together and helps the pose make sense. The key in portraiture is connection between the subject and the viewer. That connection is made most of the time by the eyes, but can also be found in the environment or the subject themselves. A pose should make sense. The subject should either be interacting (actively participating in the interaction) with the viewer, interacting with their environment (which can include other subjects), or interacting with themselves.
Subject to viewer participation is most usually by a direct gaze at the camera. Subject to environment participation can be found by leaning on a fence, putting on lipstick, picking a flower, eating a bowl of cereal, lifting a child into the air, a kiss or a hug, leaping over a wave, almost anything you can imagine that has the subject of the photo participating in their environment. The viewer will feel connection based on the shared experience of doing those same things.
Subject interacting with themselves might be a glance down their own body line, closing the eyes in thought, touching the throat or collarbone, adjusting the clothing, laughing, etc...
Participation makes the pose make sense and tells a story.

The Four P's are the foundations, the simple recipe that gives you the WHY behind the poses. Once you've mastered them you can go on to make the poses more intricate or varied and customize them to your subject, location, and the intent of the photo.

If you have a bit of money to spend on educating yourself (INVEST in your photography education, you will not regret it) on posing, I highly recommend Lindsay Adler's class, Posing 101 on Creative Live. It's a very thorough course that get's in depth on all the things we have covered above and that added benefit of seeing things real-time. You can see the free section of the class, "Guidelines for Posing" to get a good taste for what the rest of the class is like.

We will do one more post on posing, which will cover connection and how to help your subject relax and get comfortable in front of the camera, but that will be at a later date so keep your eyes open for that lesson!


Get yourself a subject to photograph, preferably someone old enough to take direction, and take a series of photographs. Use the 4 P's to have your client pose in a way that is compositionally interesting and flattering to their body as well as makes sense to their environment and the purpose of the image, then photograph them from above, at eye level, and from below. Don't forget to have them slightly alter their pose to suit the angle if need be. Load at least 1 pose with the 3 different angles in the comments section and explain how you used the 4 P's and why each angle either works or does not work.
Good luck, I can't wait to see what you do!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Family Portraits at Larimont

Hope and Cliff have been married for 10 years, and wanted to celebrate with a family session up in their hometown of Bellingham, Washington. Hope thought it would be great to take their family photos at the same place she and Cliff were married, and I couldn't agree more.
"Lairmont Manor," she said.
I consulted the Google (the Oracle of all knowledge) and my jaw hit the floor. It's a truly lovely building with soaring ceilings, fantastic natural light and a very charming and carefully manicured garden. I instantly fell in love with the location.

The day of the shoot couldn't have been more beautiful with sunshine and blue skies with just a bit of a breeze. We were able to take some photos outside and then make the most of the interior of the building and all the natural light that came pouring through the windows. If you're looking for a place to get married or hold an event, I can't recommend Lairmont Manor enough. My assistant and I were enchanted with the place and I loved it so much that I scheduled a fashion editorial just to photograph it there!

Hope got to wear her wedding dress for a second time, and I felt completely honored to have been able to photograph her in it. It was so sweet and completely romantic to be able to walk these lovebirds back through the place they said their vows and capture a little bit of what their love and life look like 10 years later.

Sabiston family, thank you for choosing me to capture your memories. I was honored.

Taking the Guilt Out of Pricing in 1 Simple Step


It's a common thread among many photographers who are just starting out in business.
They don't know what to charge so they start low. Often, clients will get a shoot plus all their images and the photographer's first born child for two-hundred bucks. This is a high volume, quick turn around business model with a high level of burnout. Ask me how I know?
At the burnout stage, the photographer knows that they can't sustain that level of work for such low prices and they realize that, in order to keep providing amazing portraits, they need to raise their prices.

Cue the big, ugly guilt monster.

This nasty bugger climbs all over you and chews you up. It whispers terrible things in your ear like, "Who do you think you are? You've only been in business 6 months, how dare you think you can charge those prices?"
Another thing he's fond of saying is, "No one will pay that."
The guilt monster sits around and feeds off of your insecurities, your uncertainties and your ignorance until he's fat and firmly settled in.

So many photographers out there start their businesses with a dream of providing an amazing service by doing what they love. Somehow, they don't realize that it's OK for their business to earn money. I mean, after all, that's what a business does. The purpose of a business is to provide a service or product to consumers and earn enough revenue to keep the business afloat and provide the business owners and employees with a livable income. If the business is very successful, they might even live a very comfortable life or...heaven forbid...get rich enough that money isn't a concern anymore.
For some reason creative  business owners seem to think that those things don't apply to them. We seem to instinctively feel that the price of our service and product relates directly to our personal worth, which means that if we charge money for it, we must be greedy. Perhaps this has to do with how deeply the creative process is tied to who we are.

I know how this feels. I've been there. I was practically giving away my time and effort but never seeing any change in my bank account. When I had someone inquire about a shoot and then not book with me, it almost broke my heart. I KNEW I could give them beautiful images. I knew they'd love the photos I took. Hearing that I was out of their price range made me feel like some kind of a failure. I thought that if they really loved my work then they'd be willing to pay $200 for a session that included their digital files.  It hurt me on a personal level, as if I personally just wasn't worth their time and effort. It made me want to chase them down and give them MORE, to try to convince them that I really was worth it if they would just trust me.
The worst part is, I know that I'm not the only one to feel this way. I see it in online forums and social media groups all of the time.
Desperate photographers are asking "what do I say when they ask if they can only pay $X? My prices are so low already!"
"I know I need to start charging more but I just feel so greedy!"
"I want to try in person sales but I don't know how to price my product."
"How can I ask someone to pay this much for my work?"
"I just don't want people to think that I'm selfish or better than anyone else."

When I finally realized that I wouldn't be able to sustain my business at the prices I was charging, I began to change things. I got some great advice (you can read about that life changing process HERE) that drastically altered the way I perceived my own value. But there was one thing that made the biggest difference on how I viewed my pricing and how it was tied to my self worth. It removed any guilt I held about asking my future clients to pay prices that were considerably steeper than what I previously charged.

I'm going to share with you the one, sure fire way to get rid of the guilt monster once and for all.

Here is what I did, and I think that if you do the same thing you will find that pricing your business becomes a matter of fact and not a matter of guilt.

The one simple step is this: DO THE MATH.

Here's the truth: pricing your business has nothing to do with what you are worth.  I know that flies right in the face of what so many people are saying right now, but it's true. Pricing your business is a numbers game, pure and simple. As long as you try to price your time and work on what you think you're worth, there is going to be some kind of guilt associated with your price structure. Is that really what you're worth? And if people don't want to pay your prices that translates into the idea in your head that they don't think your time and talent are worth their investment and THAT hurts.

Instead, you need to do realize that what you charge has everything to do with the numbers and those have no emotional ties to you.  What you charge clients has nothing to do with whether or not you are worthy and everything to do with how much money you need in order to run a business. When you realize this, the guilt will fade away and you'll be able to approach your price structure with confidence because it's not based on your own perception of your personal value but on cold, hard facts.

Start here:

How much money to you need to earn per year in order to stay alive?
Write this number down. 

Make sure to include things like:
your rent/mortgage
car payments
car insurance
school costs if you have children
Basically all the things that are required in order to live. Most of the time you can guess at a number because you're surviving on it already. Let's just use $40,000 for an example.
*this number will be different for everyone*

Okay, $40,000.
Step 2.

How much money your business needs to earn in order to stay afloat?
You should include things like:
the cost of your equipment
services to keep everything clean functioning
replacement parts
studio or space rent
insurance to protect yourself and your clients
gas to get yourself to and from shoots
props if you need them
your editing software
a computer
a cell phone (if you need a separate one for business)
 the cost of studio samples
how much you intend to spend on marketing
professional advancement
a personal accountant (unless you're a whiz)
possibly consulting a lawyer to make sure your contracts are solid
*this isn't an exhaustive list and will be a little bit different for every business because everyone starts out in a different situation. It may be lower for people starting out with a lot of gear and a good space, higher for people starting out with less equipment, and significantly lower if you are running bare bones.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot of stuff and it is. But, if you want to be in business for yourself, this comes along with the territory.
Once  you have that number, add it to the amount you need to pay yourself in order to live.

Lets say that the total of your income + your business income equals $70,000.

Divide that number by how many weeks you intend to work per year.
Say you plan to work 50 weeks per year with a few days for sick leave and a bit of vacation. You can arrange that however you need to based on what you'd like your life to look like. Maybe you only need to work 42 weeks per year. It's up to you. For the sake of the example though, we'll say 50, because running a business is hard and requires a lot of time.

SO, $70,000 per year divided by 50 weeks per year means that your business needs to bring in $1,400 per week (that includes the business costs and your take home.) That does NOT include state and local taxes, which need to be figured in in order to be accurate but it gives you an idea.

$1,400 per week.
How many days do you plan to work per week? 5 days? Then you need to earn $280 per day. It's up to you how your business does that. You can either work with one client every day for a $Y session fee and hope to sell them at least $X in product (where $Y +$X = $280), or you can can work with 1 or two clients per week with a higher session fee and more expensive products or anywhere in between.

Can you handle high volume or would you rather devote your time to two clients a week and have more time to handle the other aspects of your business? Ultimately you need to decide what is going to work for you, your business and your family.  How much time you devote to the different aspects of running your business like marketing, book keeping, editing, ect. is all up to you and how you want your life to be, but the important part to remember is that what you charge is 100% a numbers game.

Putting a price on your time, work and product actually has nothing to do with what you're "worth" and everything to do with math. This way, if a client says "you're too expensive" you'll know it had nothing to do with you personally or the quality of your photography.

If a client says, "I really love your work but I just can't do $$. Could we just get the digitals for $?" You can say with complete honesty, that has NOTHING to do with selfishness or greediness, that you understand portrait photography is an investment but cannot meet them there. You can say that with confidence because you KNOW the numbers and you now know exactly what you need to earn in order to run a business and pay yourself. It isn't personal. You must earn a profit in order to have a functioning business and put food in your mouth, so if potential clients come along who aren't contributing to you feeding yourself, you don't need to feel guilty about not working for them. They will find a photographer within their price range and you will work with clients within yours.  Aston Martin doesn't feel bad that some people want to drive a Ford, and Hyundai doesn't begrudge Ferrari their customers. They each need to earn a certain amount of money in order to thrive. Everyone walks away happy and fed.

For me, this was the most freeing thing in the world because now it wasn't a matter of whether I thought my skill was worth X amount of money. People were coming to me for their portraits so clearly they liked or connected with my work. Now it was simply about the numbers and whether or not they added up. That's why, when someone asks me what my session fee is, I can confidently say that it's $X for the session and then you'll purchase your products during the reveal.  I can say this because I know what my business needs to earn in order to stay afloat.

This takes all the guess work out of it. If you want to earn more, then write a bigger number down for your yearly income and do the math accordingly. There are no rules for how much you, as a business person, are allowed to earn. 

Photographer: you can either earn money doing what you love or  working for someone else. Either way you are working for your pay. Neither of those decisions has anything to do with your worth as a person or an artist and everything  to do with simple math.

Do the numbers add up?

**I did not cover sales or personal convictions or attitudes towards money or wealth poverty because those things are very personal issues that stem from a variety core beliefs than need to be tackled separately, and often are something that has to be readdressed and fought with as it resurfaces. These issues SHOULD be dealt with and you definitely want to admit and confront them. What I wanted to do in this post, thought, is give a straightforward tactic that will not only set you up to properly price your services, but more also sever the guilt from the concept of putting a price on your time/effort/product

Monday, June 15, 2015

Follow Sarah: Posing Prep

If you've been following along with Sarah, you know that I've been covering the fundamentals of photography. No one can ever be TOO strong in the fundamentals.
One of the upcoming lessons will be about posing, so I want to give a gift to those of you who are following along and are keen to learn more about one of the more difficult aspects of portraiture: posing.

This guide was designed specifically for Boudoir Posing, but the basics of the techniques can be used across all forms of portraiture for women and modified to use for men in ways we will discuss and expand on in upcoming lessons.

So if you plan on following along with Sarah, send me your email and I will send you a code for a free copy of The Foundations of Boudoir Posing.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework: Composition

Composition is important in all forms of art. It has to do with balance. The balance of negative and positive space, the balance of color, the balance of movement and stillness, the balance of shape. Composition affects how the eye moves through a photograph and influences how a person perceives the photo. Will they feel relaxed or agitated? Soothed or stressed? Are all the elements of the photo in harmony?

There are  2 main types of compositions: Symmetric and Asymmetric.
Symmetric composition are balanced by even spacing of the focal points or subjects and are placed in the photo so that there is a balance of negative and positive space. Symmetric compositions will often have repeating shapes or lines placed at equal intervals on both sides of the image. If you were to split the image on it's symmetrical axis it will be matched on the opposite side. This photo by Ferdinand Choffray is a stunning example of symmetrical composition. Go check out his tumblr, it's lovely.

Asymmetric compositions will have more positive space on one side or the other, generally with a larger amount of negative space. However this doesn't mean the image is unbalanced. An asymmetric composition is balanced when the "weight" of the negative space matches the "weight" of the positive space.

Let's do a thought experiment to illustrate.

Imagine a scale, the kind used to balance weight. On one side of the scale is a heavy weight and the other side of the scale is empty. The side with the weight on it will sink down toward the ground. That is an  unbalanced composition.
Now imagine that we add another heavy weight of exactly the same size to the empty side of the scale. The scale would then balance out and both sides would be the same distance from the ground. The composition is now balanced and symmetrical.
Finally imagine that we took one heavy weight off and replaced it with 12 smaller lighter weights. While the smaller weights are lighter individually, together they equal the weight of the single heavy weight. Now the composition is balanced and asymmetric.

One of the most well known techniques of composition, especially in photography, is the "Rule of Thirds." This rule states that if  you divide an image into thirds both vertically and horizontally, the most pleasing areas toward which you want to direct the viewers eye are placed along those lines and where those lines meet. This image by Prem Anandh, shared in a lovely article about the Rule of Thirds by Photography Mad, is a perfect example both of the rule of thirds and of asymmetric composition.
Notice how the butterfly is placed right along the lines, but also how the composition still feels balanced because the "weight" of the butterfly is equaled by the "weight" of the negative space.

Another way to compose an image, which is a bit more complicated, is a classical technique called "the Golden Mean" or "the Golden Ratio." The rule of thirds is a simplified version of the Golden Ratio.
It developed from a philosophical view that had to do with finding the perfect balance in life. In art it lays out what a pleasing (and also mathematical) proportion is.
You can see it in nature (such as the shell of a Nautilus) and often in classical artwork like renaissance paintings.
There is a fantastic article on Uni Watch.com that illustrates the Golden Ratio (as well as some other compositional techniques) using the famous sports photo "The Catch."

The balance of positive space (the areas in a photo that have a subject) and negative or empty space is also a very important component of composition. Negative space helps to define shape, and the ratio of negative to positive space can also impart either a sense of tranquility and peacefulness if the ratio is balanced, or a feeling of tension and unease if the ratio is unbalanced. 
Do a search of negative space photography on Google and look at the way the use of negative space affects the composition and also the feeling you have when viewing the photo. Is there a sense of peace, of loneliness, danger or unease?

There are only 2 other aspects I'm going to cover about composition in this post:
Leading lines and Framing.

Leading lines are compositional elements that help to draw the viewers eye into the photo. It is a very popular technique, as evidenced by every photo of a person standing on train tracks. Leading lines can be found almost anywhere if you are observant enough; the rail on a staircase, a stream, a sidewalk, the shape of shadows cast by the sun. If you place those leading lines in your composition in a way that causes the viewers eye to be led toward your focal point (your subject) then you have used them successfully.

Framing is a compositional technique that is used to isolate the main subject. This can be done by including objects from your landscape into your shot in order to effectively place a frame around your subject. This can be done with almost anything available from leaves in a bush, a tree, buildings, doorways, tunnels, natural rock formations, or even other people.
This is a photo I took at a wedding where I used a an element from the decorations in order to frame my bride and groom having a private moment.

Composition is a huge subject to cover and one that authors and artists have devoted whole books to; much  more information than we can cover here.
Color, movement, contrast, balance, negative and positive space, rhythm and lines are all aspects of the huge subject that is composition. We've only covered a few of those things here but my hope is that this crash course will give you a new understanding for how you want to approach shooting and that you will take your time and use these techniques to create strong compositions in your photographs.
Do more research on you own! Composition is the biggest thing that will take your photos from looking like snapshots to looking like professional images that tell a story.


First, take 20 minutes out of your day and watch this great tutorial. The accent might take a bit of getting used to, but the information is spot on and very useful.

Academy Photography: Photography Composition Basics - the truth about the rule of thirds, symmetry, repetition and rhythm.

This week I want you to shoot 5 different compositions using the following techniques: symmetry, asymmetry, the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing. Extra points for including several compositional elements in 1 photo!
We will critique and cover how effective you were next week!

If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments! I would love to know how you are finding these lessons and how you're benefiting from them. I hope to have some updates from Sarah to share with you soon!

Follow Sarah: Homework Critique

Sarah and I had our weekly meeting today so we could talk about what she had learned about light and how she had put it to use. What I discovered was that Sarah was having the same problems so many solo photographers face, especially when first starting out.
If you are a solo photog and just starting out building your portfolio, my guess is that you've encountered the same problems. I know I have.

Here's what happened.

When you are a solo photographer and you're just starting out, you are literally shooting anything and everything you can. Or anyONE and everyONE you can. You need experience because you want people to fall in love with your work and trust you with their photos. So you shoot a family for free, but they can only meet during mid day. Or you photograph a wedding for a family member who can't afford a professional photographer (don't act like you didn't do it, you pros out there.  You know a lot of you did, even if you know better now and would try to dissuade the noobs from trying it.) so you volunteered, but the wedding was in a back yard at 3pm in the afternoon in July and there wasn't a decent background in sight.
Here you are, stuck with the hardest light of the day with no assistant  to carry a reflector and no additional light like an off camera flash. So, you do your best to get an even exposure, trying to stay away from blowing the highlights or losing the shadows but you still end up with exposures that are rough.

you All right, hotshot...what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO!?

Sorry, the Speed reference just seemed to fit.

Here's what you do. You compensate using Photoshop because now you have images that need work, but FIRST you make a plan so that you don't fall into that trap again.
Buy yourself an off camera flash. If you're just starting out, you can pick up a Yongnuo Speedlight for less than $150. I have one myself as a secondary flash to my Canon 580 exII and so far my experience has been that the Yongnuo is a reliable little workhorse. This way you use fill light to make sure that your subjects faces and eyes are nicely exposed. This gives you more freedom, especially when you need to shoot alone and don't have the option of an assistant.
You also get yourself a reflector. The great thing about a reflector is that you can use anything from a really large stand alone reflector panel or a collapsible reflector to a white piece of poster board from WalMart (which I would only recommend for single portraits because those poster boards aren't that large.) This will allow you to bounce light back toward your subjects faces so that they are properly exposed. Depending on the size and type of reflector you buy, you may or may not be able to wield it on your own and might require and assistant to hold it for you.
Finally, you can get yourself a Variable Neutral Density Filter. This will allow you to shoot in bright sunlight at a wider aperture which will help to blur out any distracting backgrounds and allow you to use your off camera flash without needing to use High Speed Sync. This is the best of both worlds.

You also need plan ahead to try and have as much control over location and time as possible. Look for places with the possibility of open shade or natural colored reflectors like the side of a building (grey or white is best) and try to shoot during times when the light is softer and more diffuse.

Now, on to the critique that will cover the points I just laid out.

This shot was taken during mid day. First have a look at the light.
Light Quality: Hard light
Light Direction: High in the Sky
Light Quantity: Very Bright

Sarah was able to find a good middle ground where the highlights on the subjects aren't overly blown out and there is enough light on their faces in order that the exposure isn't a loss. She placed the sun at their backs to avoid having hard, unflattering light in their faces. The sun is even creating a nice rim light around her subjects. However, the light isn't ideal. It's too bright and contrasty to be flattering, and was too bright to allow Sarah to use a wide enough aperture to blur the distracting elements out of the background.

Here is a close up that allows you to see the light quality and the way that hard light creates a very sharp transition from highlight to shadow and more dramatic contrast.

Compensating for a missed exposure or difficult background in Photoshop is not the ideal, but it is a bit of a saving grace for those times when there were circumstances outside your control, such as the location of a wedding with difficult backgrounds. The most important thing to note is this: all the adjustments I am about to show you could have been done in camera with the proper equipment and technique.

The adjustments I made in Photoshop (done quickly so you could see the effect...I was not meticulous about my masking) are all things that could have been covered with the equipment and techniques mentioned above.
A Neutral Density filter to use a wider aperture allowing the background to blur distracting details.
A secondary light source (a flash or reflector) to bounce light back into the faces of the subjects and warm up the skin tones because shadows are cool and cause skin tones to have too much blue.

This shot is a good example because Sarah did not make any wrong decisions with her technique, she simply needed to expand her knowledge enough to overcome a difficult lighting situation. There was no open shade for her to use with enough space to shoot the entire wedding party, and she was able to get a useable exposure. With just a few adjustments in Photoshop, she can compensate for what she wasn't able to do on location.

Hopefully now that you know, bright midday sun won't be so intimidating!

Sarah also brought me an example of soft light to use.

So, let's look at the light in this photo.

Light Quality: Soft
Light Direction: Diffuse
Light Quantity: Mid

The light in this shot is coming from the sky but is flagged by the trees and being diffused in the shade by leaves, water, and anything else the light can bounce off of. That is why the transition between highlight and shadow is so smooth that you almost don't realize it's happening. There aren't any bright highlights or dark shadows which means this exposure will be mostly midtones.
The soft light is much more flattering on the subjects skin, though the white balance is a bit cool. A simple change of white balance in camera would have warmed this image up. The composition might have been strengthened with careful use of the rule of thirds, but as far as light quality is concerned, for the time of day and mood she wanted in the photograph there is nothing wrong at all with the soft light in this sweet shot.

Did you follow along with the homework?
If you did and you'd like a critique of your work, or you have any questions about what we have covered so far in manipulating light, please share it in the comments section below!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Follow Sarah Homework: Light

The essence of photography is recording light. The very best photographers know exactly how to use and/or manipulate light to get the images they want.

Light can be broken down into 3 particular qualities that you will need to pay attention to:

  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Direction

Light Quality can most easily be described with 2 adjectives; hard or soft.
Hard light tends to produce shadows with well defined, sharp edges. The transition between light and shadow is abrupt.
Soft light produces a smoother gradation between light and shadow, so that the shadow edges look feathered or soft for a smooth transition.

Quantity refers to intensity or how much light there is. An even exposure will generally have shadow, highlight, and well exposed midtones. Images with lots of light and little midtone or shadow are referred to as "high key." Images that are dark and have less light are called, "low key."

Direction refers to where the light is coming from in relation to your subject. Light direction is key for creating shape.

All of these qualities can be manipulated (and/or planned, if shooting in natural light) to produce whatever effect the photographer desires. Instruments used to manipulate the quality of light are known as "light modifiers" or simply "modifiers."
The job of a modifier is to manipulate the light that is available, whether natural or artificial, to produce a desired effect.
There are 3 main ways light is modified; by reflection (which can modify all 3 light qualities) diffusion (which tends to modify quality and quantity) and flagging (which "eats" light and affects quantity)

Reflection is the most common way to manipulate light and one of the easiest since reflectors can be found almost everywhere. Certain kinds of reflectors can even serve to diffuse (larger sources such as a wall or the side of a building and white colored material) or intensify (silver reflectors or "hard" surfaces that have highly reflective properties like mirrors) available light rather that just redirecting it.

Diffusion refers to breaking the light up with the main goal of diminishing it's quantity and often softening it. Sheer window curtains are  good example. They diminish the amount of light coming through the window and break the light up so that it's softer as well.

Flagging is a term used to describe blocking the light and is most often done with something black, such as a piece of foam core board or a black material. The purpose is to block the light or reduce it. Light can be flagged from a subject or even from the camera itself.

When you are preparing for a shoot, it's best to visualize what kind of light you want and plan accordingly. If you are shooting in natural light then you need to know exactly what kind of light you want. Morning and evening provides diffuse directional light with morning light being cooler and evening light being warmer. Mid day produces hard light that comes from high angles and is not generally considered flattering for most people without some kind of modification.
If you use artificial light, you have a few more options and aren't quite as hampered by the position of the sun.

Your job this week is to start paying attention to light. Look around you and see where the light is coming from? What angle is it falling at? Is it hard or soft? Is there a lot of light, or just a little? How is it falling on the faces of the people around you? Is it flattering?
Take 1 day out and shoot all 3 qualities. It doesn't need to be a person as long as the light quality is evident. Post 3 photos in the comments below that show all 3 light qualities and explain what you are showing in each photo; quality (hard or soft) quantity (a lot of light or just a little) and direction (light that is coming from an angle)

Also, watch this great tutorial from B&H photo with Neil van Niekerk. He get's much more in depth with light than I can do here.

Direction of Light: Your Key to Better Portrait Photography

If you have a bit of money to use, I would advise you to invest in this course by Tony Corbell on Creative Live (if you don't have an account yet, GET ONE! Creative Live is one of the best resources you can have) because the depth of knowledge is fantastic and you come back to it any time  you like.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Follow Sarah: What do YOU Want to Learn?

I've been getting a lot of messages lately from photographers looking for help. They've got questions about lighting, posing, working with models or editing techniques, even ways to get their business going.
Now, I don't consider myself the expert on all things photography. I am learning and growing ALL the time. The last 6 to 8 months have probably seen the largest jump in skill and technique that I have had over my 7 years of active photography. However, I do know what it feels like to want to reach out and learn, to be hungry to grow and to be more in love with what I create.
I firmly feel that if everyone waited until they knew everything, no one would ever teach anything because there is no such thing as knowing everything. With that in mind, I give as much advice as I can, but I have clients to take care of and all the responsibilities of being a wife and mommy so I don't have as much time as I would like to help.

As a solution, I decided to take on an intern. I figured that would be the best way to pour out as much helpful information as possible since she would be part of my schedule and I can teach as I go, which is something that comes naturally to me...just ask my hair and makeup gals. But I know that will only reach 1 person and whomever she decides to share with.

Then I thought, well what if I made a blog post about all of our lessons? That fits into my weekly schedule (since I try to keep a normal time to blog...even if I don't always succeed at it...)AND is something that could be really helpful to other photographers SO; Follow Sarah is what you get!

I will do my best to add 1 blog post a week that will cover what Sarah and I discuss and learn during our sessions.

A few of the things I intend to cover are:

Light: Natural and artificial and how to manipulate both to achieve the results you want.
Posing: How to create composition with the body and flatter your model
Editing: Finding your own style and editing in a non-destructive way

There will be a lot of mini-lessons within those categories specific to where Sarah is at in her journey, as well as discussions about business, homework assignments, juggling family life and work, and many other things I am sure. Hopefully we will be able to get a bit of video into the sessions as well.

I fully expect to learn as much as I teach through this journey, and I am hoping you will be joining us! All the posts will be cataloged within the Follow Sarah headline where you can leave what you are doing to follow along, keep up with homework assignments, and any questions you have about what we are doing. I will do my best to answer them as I have the time!

FS (follow Sarah) Homework Assignment:

Write the answers to these questions in the comments section below.
I would love for you to take some time and consider where you want to go with your photography. Be as honest as possible with your answers, even if it's "nothing" or "I don't know."

  • Who is your photography hero?
  • Who/what do you enjoy photographing the most? The least?
  • What are your 2 short term and 2 long term goals?
  • What are you doing right now to achieve those goals?
  • What are your greatest strengths as a photographer? As a business person?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses as a photographer? As a business person?
  • What are the biggest obstacles you face right now that are keeping you from being where you want to be?
  • What do you hope to gain from FS?

So we can see where YOU are in your photography journey, feel free to share 1 example of your work for critique.