Tag Archives: portrait

Shooting Soccer Games

Summer Soccer Shooting

Most folks that I shoot with know that I will use my iPhone for any number of photography tasks. Even at a wedding because the iPhone excels at macro shots like shooting the wedding rings very close to show off the details. But, there are times that you really need to use the proper camera and lens to get the best picture. Much like a carpenter who has five different hammers, a good photographer will have a few different cameras and knows when it is time to switch it up and change the camera to get the best picture they can. And it IS all about the picture, not what hardware you shot it with.

 Goalie Megan Blocking Ball

This summer, I’ve been shooting soccer games on the weekends. I have to say I really enjoy watching the kids mix it up and a few times, some of the more adventurous will try moves they saw used in the World Cup games. Shooting soccer games, even in daylight has some interesting challenges to work around. You have a very fast paced game, you normally have harsh light which is also directional and you need to be able to stand at one end and still get the shot at the other end of the pitch (field).

To be successful at this type of shooting, you need to balance several competing settings. You need to shoot with a long lens and and after shooting with a micro four thirds and my DSLR, I would only recommend the DSLR in combination with 70-200 mm lens at the minimum. And not any DSLR will do, you need to have a fast focusing system that can track and focus continuously.  My system is a Nikon D700 using a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 lens. Yes, it is heavy but it has the reach along with just enough zoom to track 90% of the action.  The Nikon also has a decent high speed frame rate which can be as high as 8 frames per second with the right grip and battery pack. And yes, you will need this burst mode to really catch the fast action on the field. Also, you will need high capacity cards since burst shooting chews through megabytes of card space in a  hurry. I typically shoot through one 16 Mb CF card per game which is roughly 500 images.

Olivia Chasing the Ball

The lighting will be your curse because most of the time, these games are outside in harsh directional light of morning or afternoon sun. You will need to move to one side or the other to get the best light so the kid’s faces are not in heavy shadow. This means you will be moving around a fair amount so forget the big camera bag. I never change lenses or use a flash during these games so I have a “man-purse” which is a shoulder slung belly pack which has spare memory cards, spare batteries, lens cloth and some gaffers tape. I also keep my light meter in it. And yes, I use a light meter to get my first settings of the day. I shoot the games on full manual mode. Why? Why not use aperture priority (Av)? Because with consistent exposure, my post processing is much faster. If I find that for 20 mins, the lighting was one way, I can set all the images during that window to the same adjustment. My ISO is locked down to 400 and my shutter is locked to anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/4000 of second. As much as I like a bit of blur to show motion, I want the kid’s faces sharp so its a delicate balance. I normally just live with the lack of blur in exchange for a crisp image that will print well for the parents.

I also use a lens hood but not that hard plastic disaster that Nikon gives me. I have a nice rubber Mamiya lens hood that originally was for a medium format lens. It’s black and folds back on itself if I need it out-of-the-way. More importantly is that when something hits it, the rubber bends and absorbs the impact. Think about a spectator on the line not paying attention to where my lens is as they get overly excited. I’ve saved many a head with this rubber lens hood.

When you shot, always try to think ahead of where the action is going. Constantly be aware of where the ball is, where it’s going and who might be kicking it. Use your fastest burst mode and learn to shoot with a gentle touch on the trigger. If you see the player getting close to the goal, start burst shooting to have a chance getting  the actual goal shot. This is ALWAYS a hero shot as the player pushes the ball past the goalkeeper. Conversely, a save of the attempted goal is also a hero shot that is often times overlooked by the photographer.

Attempted Goal

At the end of the day, you will need to sort through hundreds of images but there will be some real gems along with the out of focus shots, just missed shots and accidental shots. There will always be one or two shots that sum up the game’s action for the day. I make up faux magazine covers to showcase a player who has an exceptional image.

Magazine Cover Soccer Olivia

I also give parents a custom app on their mobil devices with images of their child when they purchase a package from me. These images will be downloaded to the mobile device and can easily be shared with various social media sites right from the phone or tablet. For a live demo of the custom app, click here.

Smartphone Album

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First Communion at Saint Norbert, Orange CA

A friend asked if I would shoot their daughter’s first communion at Saint Norbert which is a local Catholic church here in the city of Orange,  and of course, my answer was I’d be happy to. It was a smaller church and no flash allowed during the ceremony. Also, a local photographer had been hired by the church so I had to be careful not to step on toes and cause problems. But my F2.8 70-200mm zoom made short work of being in the back. I also shot some family pictures at the house when we were done at the church. The trick was to treat this much like I would a wedding with formal shots before the church service, shooting during the service like  wedding and taking detail shots, fill shots and more while getting the family shots.

In the end I delivered two dozen images plus a slide show to my friend. The side show was first shown using a Epson projector so the images were about 7 feet wide!!  Impressive to say the least. I did a second showing using my iPad which works very well for this sort of thing.

Here is the slide show I produced for the family.

Here are some of the stills that I used in the slide show and showed to the family.


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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.


Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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How to prepare for your portrait session

A tanning bed in use.

Image via Wikipedia

Your  best portrait will occur when you collaborate with me on your objectives for the portrait. This way if you have specific interests or goals for your portrait, I can work towards achieving them. We can meet in person which is best or we can discuss on the phone. I find that email is not an effective way to work out the collaboration. Ultimately, you need to be comfortable that I understand what you need and desire from the portrait session. I will do my level best as your photographer to meet your goals.

Here in Southern California, we are in the capital of sunshine and tans. But these things do not always work out well for your portrait. Please, please, please (did I say please?)  avoid the “spray tans” or “self tanning” products as they will not go on evenly and they will leave an uneven build up on unusual areas. Many of the spray tans will actually turn an orange in the pictures. Please do not use a tanning bed or lay out in the sun three days or so before the portrait. Sunburn is virtually impossible to remove well in post and makes the skin dried out and unsightly in the photographs even with good makeup.

Please avoid drugs, alcohol, excessive salt or too much partying the night before (24 hours). All of these will show in the portraits with issues ranging from bloated skin to droopy eyes, blood shot eyes and lines in the face not to mention the odd hangover. Keeping yourself well hydrated a day before the shoot will help your skin look it’s best.

Plenty of rest the night before is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your portrait. Your eyes and temperament will thank you by the end of the day.

Lets touch on marks in the skin. If you want to shoot something off the shoulder, strapless or the like, please do not wear a normal bra for several hours before the shoot. Either go without or go strapless and give the skin a chance to smooth out from the normal strap line over the shoulder. This also holds true for tight sleeves and other tight clothing. Lines in the skin require extra retouching and it’s best to avoid them as much as possible.

Please come to the shoot after you have eaten a small meal. Hunger pains makes it hard for you to concentrate on your shoot and eating too much leaves you ready for a nap instead of being awake for the shoot.

make up artist preparing model for her photo session at Redgum

If a make up artist/stylist is to be used for your portrait, then please arrive with a clean and fresh face. When the make up artist has to scrub down your face, it takes away from the time available for the shoot.

Make sure you allow plenty of time to pack and to arrive a bit early to the shoot. This will help you be calm when it comes time to actually shoot your portraits. Unless you do this often, a check list will go far to help you from forgetting key items your outfits.

And talking about outfits, use outfits that fit well, not the favorite outfit that is two sizes too small or the oversized but comfortable clothes. Do not forget nice shoes, even if they dont show, they help you feel your best while posing for the camera. A favorite piece of jewelry can help set off an outfit and scarfs, headbands and ear rings can really dress up an outfit. If you want a more “Classic” look, bring some pearls, they always add a touch of elegance to a portrait. But too many rings or too gaudy of a piece of jewelry will detract from your portrait.

If you are having a group portrait, pay attention to what your partners or family members are wearing in both color and texture. Paisley and plaid really do not go together and no amount of photoshop will help. Keep in mind the type of pictures you want, if you like the dark background, wearing dark clothes will just make it harder to get a clean shot.  White on white is the same problem. While I can shoot either well, why make it hard? And if you tell me you want a more formal portrait, please do not think that a pressed T-Shirt is formal (really happened once).



Christmas Card from Belmont Park photo shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Kids are a bit different and we all need to accept that up front. Their favorite clothes are probably not yours so the trick is to bring both sets. We can shoot their favorite first in exchange for changing into something you would prefer to see. For the smaller family members, a favorite toy or soft friend can go a long ways to comforting the child in a strange place with really bright lights in their face. I find that a few books with mom or dad reading stories can have a wonderful calming effect, besides, it can make a fantastic image.



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Winter Portraits

Ahh.. Winter.. brightly burning logs, toasted marsh mellows, hot coco and snow. Really bright snow in the daytime that completely confuses your automatic camera into thinking its about 2 to 3 stops too bright.  So many pictures taken in the winter by people end up looking like blown white outs and very dark stick people or serious racoon eyes from the nasty shadows under the eye sockets. Trying to shoot in the snow in unlike anything else other than maybe the Gobi dessert. It’s cold, batteries die an early death, your fingers freeze, it is incredibly bright and people dont want to sit still very long.

So is it impossible to get good natural portraits in the snow? Not at all, it’s very possible so long as you follow some basic rules. You will almost certainly have to use a flash, you will almost certainly need to go manual to override the camera’s non-winterized brain and you need to be able to shoot fast before everyone including you freeze.

It’s does not need to be a fancy flash, the onboard popup flash can really work wonders by staying within it’s working range. You will need to overdrive it, I typically shoot at +1 to +2 stops over flash compensation. I keep the ISO between 200 and 500, I look for shade if possible and I do like to use the sun as a natural backlight. In the image below, I put Sara directly in line with the setting sun. This was while we were out just walking around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. I had my D300, a 17-55 F2.8 lens and that was it.

ISO 200, F3.5 and a shutter of 1/125 using the popup flash at +2. With the D300, the 45mm works out to be almost 70mm on a full frame sensor

Snow Princess

Snow Princess

To pull this off, you MUST know your equipment and how to set various settings. When your fingers are getting stiff and cold is not the time to fumble around for menus. I set up the shot first to get the background the way I wanted it and then added the flash. It took about 4-5 shots to dial it in completely the way I wanted it. As you can see, I put the sun behind her head so her face was in shadow but her hair was rimlit by the sun. The flash provided the fill light.

On the next shot, it was the same basic settings but I did not like the look of the colors against the white snow but it black and white, I think it works really well. Again, you need to pay attention to the posing as much as you do to the camera settings.

B/W Snow Princess

B/W Snow Princess

In this shot, there are some apparent tricks. One, the shadow gives away that Sara is backlit again, I do this so I can light the face and not get the blown highlights from the bright sun. The hair looks really nice when backlit and in this case, the snow blows out to almost white. I have just enough texture so you can tell she is on snow  but it does not distract. I’m shooting down at her so she can stretch the face and neck up a bit and get that nice curve. This stretch helps her look natural and relaxed. Her bent knee provides a good place for her to put the arm and gives some nice lines.

My final image was taken on the side of the road and in partial shade. I made a point of putting Sara’s face into the shade and letting the sun dapple the rest of her and the ground. The bright patches provide a nice visual interest and works with the fence in the background for some texture. In a perfect world, the bit of ground would be cloned out but I wanted to show portraits with minimal work. I had to start to scoop up some snow with her hands and then asked her to look up.  It is a very natural pose and works well. Again the pop up flash was used to fill the face with some light.

Sun and Snow

Sun and Snow

I hope you can see that you dont need alot of gear to shoot nice winter portraits with just a bit of thought and knowing your equipment. Many times, your current equipment is more capable than you think and the popup flash is  a perfect example of something that is very much maligned by the “pros” but used by those in the “know”.

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Why have a professional portrait taken?

I was asked this question several times this holiday season from possible client who had the latest “big box” store flyer in their hands with the 19.99 portrait special with a “free” 8×10 and “free” 25 holiday cards. It’s a good question but not a one with a simple answer.

On the surface, it appears that the typical professional photographer does not have a chance in competing with the big box cheap price. But lets take a look under the “good deal” for a few enlightening thoughts.

When you go to a store like Wallmart or JC Pennys for a “portrait”, you will be there with other people, often more then a few other people all milling around waiting in a small and noisy area to wait your turn. The hired help is normally not a professional photographer but someone at minimum wage or close to it with just enough training to take your information and key it into the computer and then take your money. The photographer has to use the store’s equipment which will be set up per the store’s policy and procedure. No creativity allowed, no sir, we dont allow that here.

If you are trying to get portraits on a holiday, it is even worse than normal with the extra crowds there trying to get the same good deal you want. If the kids are having a bad day, so sad for you. They do not reschedule and they do not wait for the kids to wind down. When you get your print or prints, it has normally not be retouched. What you see is what you get.

Lets contrast this with a professional portrait session. These can be normally take one of two ways, either in the studio or on location which could be your house or somewhere agreed to like a park or favorite spot. In either case, you have the photographer’s undivided attention and you are not trying to battle your way to a cash register first. I did one Christmas shoot for a neighborhood where we used a local “man cave” (fancy garage) as my studio and I set up my portable studio in there. Everyone had to just walk a few yards to the “studio” and each client had a 30 minute window which in some cases allowed for changing of clothes or calming down the kids. It was a very relaxed environment for all concerned. At the end of the shoot, my clients received a CDR with 10 edited and touched up images suitable for 8×10 or smaller prints plus a set suitable for emailing. They could then place orders for their pictures through myself or their favorite printing house.

Custom photography like this is as much about the “experience” as it is the images taken. Unlike the box stores, you have a pleasant experience and you received your own copies of high rez images. The box stores gave you a print or two but additional prints are expensive and if your shoot has more than two or three people in it, many times they charge extra. Most times a CD is not available to purchase since they want to make their money off the prints you order along with keeping you in the store.

Professional portraits are not just studio shots, they can be “Lifestyle” images taken candidly during a set time at a favorite location. This image of a “cowgirl” was taken in front of her house playing in the street. The hat was a favorite of hers at the time and I was able to catch the fleeting smile of hers using a 200mm lens so I was not in her face while snapping them. Again, this is the type of image that you can not get at the box store for twenty dollars but everyone will sigh over when you show it off.

And it is not just Christmas, there are many times of the year to consider getting professional pictures taken. I went to a client’s home to take pictures of the kids done up in their Halloween costumes which they had put a fair amount of work into. Can you imagine trying to get three kids to the local box store in their costumes to the “studio”? Would the photographer there really know how to shoot a reflective white costume on a white background? Or shoot through a clear plastic face shield so you can see the child’s eyes?

And number two

Both of these were used as gifts to the grandparents “just because” and they were thrilled to have professional shots to show off to their friends and display in their home. And since the client bought a block of time, it was cheaper in the end with me than going to the box store at 20 dollars each for only two prints that may or may not have come out. The client had at least five delivered images of each boy that she could then use as she wanted and where she wanted.

I’m not much different many professional photographers. I care about my clients and I work with them to get the best possible images I can with them. I’m flexible and when kids are having a bad day, we work it out. This same client came back for Christmas portraits this year and it took three tries to get all the kids in a good mood. A picture can be something tossed and forgotten or it can be a heirloom to be treasured and looked at fondly for years.

It is not always the price tag that makes a portrait a “good deal”. Many times it is the intangibles that make up the picture that have a much bigger impact than just the price.

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