Skye’s Senior Portrait in Chandler, Arizona

Skye’s high school senior portraits were taken in Chandler and Gilbert, Arizona with an extra drive out to Canyon Lake outside of Phoenix.  The music for this slideshow, “Callita Night” by KGB is licensed through Triple Scoop Music.

The final image in the collection was a must for Skye and for me.  This was Skye’s Pride and Prejudice moment… you girls will know what I’m talking about.  Guys, don’t worry about it!

Bringing Joy to Kids with Serious Illness at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

He’s kind of a big deal!

High School Senior Portrait for Boy Scout Eagle Project

Teddy Scott is one person you will never forget. I have known him for the majority of his life, and lately, he has been assisting me on photography jobs, so I have gotten to know him even better, because you really learn a lot about someone when you see them on the job. However, there is something that will tell you much more about a person than how they treat their mother… that’s how they serve others without thought of reward. Teddy was the first to volunteer to shave his head when my little friend Trajen contracted cancer and was undergoing chemo therapy. I already had a bald head, so I don’t count, but many people shaved their heads to give Trajen the courage to shave his. Teddy lead the charge!
Young man Shaving his head in support for young boy with cancer
group of men with shaved heads supporting a young child in his battle against cancer
Leading another charge, this month Teddy finished his Eagle Project, which was to organize people throughout his church and community to make boxes and boxes full of Teddy Bears to deliver to Phoenix Children’s Hospital to be given to the children there who are fighting cancer and dealing with other serious illnesses. Trajen was one of those little kids. He touched us all (still does, thankfully – his was a successful battle) and he obviously had a lasting effect on Teddy. Now Teddy is working to bring a little joy to others just like Trajen, who have tough days ahead.

Young boy at Phoenix Children's Hospital fighting cancer.

When you have run out of things to pray about, or places to serve… say a prayer for the families who are fighting against the effects of cancer and other illnesses and look for some way in your community to bring a smile to their faces. Teddy’s Bears will go a long way to that end. So, yea… he’s kind of a big deal!

The Tone Curve Panel Controls Contrast Best

Contrast & Curves

It’s time to get your contrast under control with tone curves.

A large part of photography is judging the various tones that make up an image and deciding where they should be placed in the final presentation of the print. Both in the image display of our cameras and in Adobe Lightroom, we see this tonal distribution visually represented in the histogram.  The simple name for this tonal distribution is “contrast” and as photographers, we are constantly trying to control it.  Reading the histogram and controlling the placement of tones within the image is one of the most important skills a photographer can master.

aspen trees as a contrast example for lightroom curves

We  actively adjust image contrast both when we shoot and in post processing. When we shoot, we do this by judging and manipulating the quantity, quality and direction of light. A softer, more diffuse, less directional light creates less contrast.  Conversely, harder, more directional light creates brighter highlights and leaves darker shadows which equals more contrast.  This is then shown to use on the camera and in Lightroom by way of the histogram.  I constantly hear people say that a good exposure is described on the histogram when there is an even distribution of tones all the way across the graph (like in the image  below), and while this statement is true for the image above and the histogram below, the advice is actually very poor advice.  In reality, a good exposure on the histogram looks like the image it is describing.

well exposed histogram

On a grand scale, fog is the prefect light modifier for reducing contrast.  If only we could command the elements and bring it in whenever we needed it.  Fog has the effect of bouncing light everywhere and filling in all the shadows, thus everything becomes almost equal in value.  No real shadows and no real highlights.  We very rarely need this intense effect, but we do use soft boxes and fill reflectors all the time to help fill in the shadows and even out the difference between the shadows and the highlights.  Pay attention to the histogram describing this image.  When your photograph has no shadows, the histogram should display nothing on the left side of the graph.  A proper exposure will avoid allowing the data to clip on the left (shadows) or the right (highlights) of the histogram, but the graph in between the either edge should be an accurate description of the tones you are seeing in the scene.

swedish soldiers in fog

In photography, the further apart the shadows and the highlights are on the histogram, the higher the contrast will be in the image.  In life, we create contrast by making friends with strange people, or having peculiar pets.  The more peculiar and different the greater the contrast.  I had two dogs growing up, one was a tiny little Cockapoo, the other was a big Golden Lab, who was also the fattest dog in Norther Arizona (he has an award to prove it)!  Just watching them run down the road together was entertaining.  As with Shroder and Uggums (my dogs), the further apart we are in looks or temperament from our companions, the more drastic the contrast will be in our lives, which results in more drama.  This is not to say contrast and drama make the best images.  Low contrast images, like the image above, create a sense of quiet which has equal value.

In the end, our choices in image contrast change the feeling our images produce.  Because of this, post-production really matters and contrast is a critical portion of that.  We use the contrast slider and the tone curve to make these final contrast adjustments. The contrast slider is the simple way to change the contrast in an image, but it is also the least subtle.  It is like using an axe to cut your sandwich.  You will definitely cut the sandwich in two, but you will also cut the plate and most likely the table as well.  If you want to maximize your control over the contrast in your image you need to master the use of the Tone Curve panel.  Take a look at the image below and notice that the contrast slider is left at zero.  The major contrast work is achieved in the tone curves area of Lightroom, both in the Parametric and the Point Curve areas of the Tone Curves Panel.  You can see that there are five different curves at work in this one image.  The lower contrast in the image helps to soften the model’s already soft look.  When you are creating a tone curve for the first time, keep in mind that you should only really need to do this once.  If you like the effect you have created, make a preset for that tone curve to make it simple and efficient to apply your complicated curve in the future.

lightroom curve panels

I have created a short video on Using the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom to get you started into exploring this powerful tool in Lightroom.  After watching the video, I encourage you to spend some time playing with your images in Lightroom using the Tone Curve pane in the Develop Module, and to get you started, make sure you download the free Tone Curve based presets I have created for you.

Using Tone Curves in Adobe Lightroom

Which tones you emphasize or de-emphasize can vary widely depending on the mood you want to create and where we want the viewer to focus.  I may use dramatic lighting or soft lighting depending on the story I am telling — bright and happy, or dark and moody. However I light my subject, or set my exposure at the camera, I have only told half the story. The other half of the story is told when I open the image in Adobe Lightroom and make adjustments to the image.  That is, as Ansel Adams said, the performance of the score (the capture being the musical score).  We captured the sequence of the notes in our camera, but the way we play them out in post-processing provides infinite possibilities for performance.  Mastering all of your tools (or instruments) is the first step to gaining complete control over your photographic voice.

Post Script:  The contrast control in the tone curves panel is not only the superior place to tweak your contrast, but it is also a better place to create split tones and even cross processing effects.  The power in the tone curve is quite intense.  For this reason I use the tone curve in a lot of my Lightroom Presets.  Let me get you started by giving you a small set of three great Classic Black and White Lightroom Presets that use the tone curve as the basis for their effect.

Cover image for free classic black and white lightroom presets

Are you a high contrast or low contrast shooter? Do you like big drama, or subtle dreamy tones? How do you achieve your signature look with contrast? I’d love to hear from you.

Classic Black and White Presets

Classic Black and White Preset:

My first experience in photography, probably the moment I fell in love with it, was when my sister taught me how to develop a black and white print in the glow of the red lamps.  I watched a blank piece of paper slowly drop below the developer and waited, not knowing what to expect.  Suddenly, splotches of black began to grow across the face of the paper, like someone had spilled ink and it was running slowly across the face of the print.  But the inky spill gave way in areas to a relief of white where the lamp of the enlarger had not exposed the paper and I began to see an image appear.  Honestly, I don’t recall what the first image was that I saw printed.  I am sure it was a meaningless high-school yearbook photo, but the experience is forever burned (exposed and fixed) in my memory.  In honor of those experiences in the black and white darkroom, I have created three Adobe Lightroom classic black and white presets for you to enjoy.  They won’t give you the magical experience I had in the darkroom, but they will give you the beautiful tones I was able to create after years of study and practice.

Of course, unlike in the darkroom, with digital images, we start with a color image.  The images I am using here is the original color RAW image directly from Lightroom.  What you will see in each subsequent image is a one click application of one of the three black and white lightroom.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - original color version

 

Classic Black and White Preset:

One thing that was lost in the digital world of high contrast, smooth, textureless images and poppy colors and has only been brought back by digital nostalgia, was the beauty of seeing all the zones in a black and white print on fiber paper.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, Ansel Adams (I sure hope the name rings a bell) developed a method for seeing and printing identifiable zones from pure black to pure white (Zones 0-10).  High contrast prints on glossy or pearl paper could never really exhibit all of those zones because they would invariably skip a zone here or there and head directly from black to light grey or white.  This was something my film students would get a bad grade for doing, and now almost every photographer on the planet does daily because they are in love with the contrast knob in Lightroom and they print only to glossy or pearl papers.  Well, I have created a Black and White Lightroom Preset for you that will take you back to the Classic Black and White era, and if you have a proper exposure, you will feel the the beauty of a full tonal range black and white print on beautiful fiber paper, even if you are using a pearl surface paper.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - classic black and white

 

 

Ultra Contrast Black and White Preset:

And for those of you who still want your contrast, you can get your fix with a truly high contrast black and white preset that comes from a place of subtlety and beauty rather than the brutish, blunt force of the contrast slider.  That’s right, there are other places that provide much better contrast than the slider that bares the name!  The tone curve is where contrast was born, the contrast knob is just a cheap imitation!  Well, give it a whirl and see what you think.  I’ve also added some rich and toothy grain to complete the look that you might get when you push your B&W film (which is where you would see such contrast emerging).  I like to think of it as a bit of a TMAX grain.  It always felt a bit like sandpaper.  Very beautiful sandpaper.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - ultra contrast black and white

Toned Black and White Preset:

Finally a bit of warm toned black and white for those who can’t stay away from color.  Now in the olden days of film, we bought warm tone paper, or cool tone paper.  Or we dropped our silver prints in a bath of sepia, or selenium toner.  This was very different then adding a wash of color over the top of our prints.  True print toning doesn’t stain the paper, it stains the silver (the dark parts of the print), which means that the paper stays white while the shadows change colors and do so a rate somewhat proportional to the amount of silver that is congregating together to make a deeper shadow.  The easiest way to accomplish a toned print in Lightroom is to add color to the shadows in the Tone Panel.  But I have taken you into a deeper, more robust realm… the tone curve.  Oh, yes, it seems I am in there a lot.  It is a very powerful tool.  Here I can change the response of each color channel to respond to the tone curve independently.  This give me complete control over the colors and allows me to create subtle toners that create depth and contrast in my toned black and white prints.  And I give you a taste of a warm toned preset from my upcoming collection of toned black and whites.  Don’t just use it.  Study it and play with it.  Get to know the Tone Curve panel in Lightroom.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - classic sepia toned black and white

Learn More About Lightroom Tone Curves:

Each of these presets are heavily based in the Tone Curve pane in the Lightroom Develop module.  To learn more about using the Tone Curve, make sure to watch this free video about using Lightroom’s Tone Curve pane.

Cover image for free classic black and white lightroom presets

Sign up now for three free Classic Black and White Presets

Custom Camera Settings – Don’t Miss a Shot

Using custom camera settings can mean the difference between getting the shot at just the right moment, or missing it entirely. One important distinction between a skilled photographer and a person taking snapshots is the ability to rapidly adjust to changing lighting conditions. Pros also develop a second-nature ability to properly adjust their camera. Being prepared to shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions takes planning and practice. One of the ways to ensure that you are ready to shoot when the action is happening is to make use of custom camera settings.

Weddings are especially challenging because of all of the different environments you shoot in. Take for example a church. Inside the church, you may or may not be allowed to use a flash. The stage might be brightly lit where the audience is only dimly lit. There may be windows or not. Certain events happen very quickly and depending on which direction you are facing to get the action, you might need a different exposure mode ie shutter, or aperture priority or manual; you might need flash compensation, or a different iso. Making all of these changes in the heat of shooting, every time you turn around is distracting and time consuming. the distraction might be enough to cause you to miss the first kiss or the bride and groom coming down the aisle.

Custom Camera Settings Prevent Errors

Custom Camera Settings Make setting your camera a snap

Imagine you are shooting a wedding in a church. One great use of custom camera settings in this scenario is to come to the church early and scout your shots. Turned toward the podium, set your camera to the settings that work best for that environment. Using your camera’s menu, set that as custom setting one. On my camera, a Canon 5D Mark III I choose that custom setting using the c1 position on the top left dial. Now, turn back toward where the audience will be seated and set your camera exposure settings for that direction — set this as custom setting two. For setting three you may choose to set your camera for when the bride and groom exit the church with the dark church entrance behind them.

Custom Camera Settings mean fast accurate exposures

Custom Camera Settings Include Pretty Much Every Setting in your Camera

You can set pretty much anything you want including file size, raw or jpeg, focus mode, drive and silent or high-speed shutter mode. Make sure everything is exactly the way you want it when you set your custom setting. Especially the manual, aperture or shutter speed priority modes. These three modes are really the only thing you can’t change within the custom setting after it has been created. Once you have created a custom setting in one of these modes it remains in that mode. That is a manual custom setting an aperture priority custom setting, or a shutter priority custom setting. Once you switch to a custom setting, however, you can change anything else that you want to, like focus point or exposure compensation. The custom setting acts as a starting point and you can adjust for environmental conditions from there.

As with any camera technique practice brings mastery. Spend time creating custom settings and working with them. You will find that you are better prepared to capture those rapidly changing situations. I like to be ready and never miss a shot so custom settings are an important part of my professional tool bag.

Equipment List:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Linking Speed-lights for Dramatic Photography

Linking Speed-lights together is a fantastic way to increase the volume of your shot, dramatically emphasise your subject and tell a better story. When shooting events, frequently you are in a place with poor lighting. It’s your job as a photographer to make your subject look amazing no matter what the available light is like. This video will show you the basics of linking your speedlights to all fire in sync with your camera and how they can be controlled from your master speedlight.

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Shooting receptions and parties can be a lot of fun. There is usually a ton of action not to mention poignant emotions like love, and humor. Lot’s of shots from these events look like snapshots – overly contrasty and lit from a single source. Bouncing light off a wall or ceiling helps, but can only take you so far toward your ultimate goal of rich vibrant images. By placing speedlights at various points around the room you can greatly enhance the drama  of your shots.

Try linking speedlights to create different effects.

Hair-lights separate the subject from the background, cross-lights bring out detail by building contrast; background-lights fill in the background adding it to the story — especially in large open environments; and fill-lights soften the light on subjects, adding to their beauty. You can use a number of tools to place the lights where you want them, including a variety of stands and wall mounts. A photograph taken while linking speedlights properly will emphasize the natural drama of, say, a bride and groom’s first dance.

Link Speedlights for great reception lighting

Start with a master speedlight on your camera rather than a transmitter only. This will provide syncing capability, a backup light in case you have to grab a quick shot away from your setup and equally important the focus assist beam on your speedlight makes it possible for you to focus in very dark environments.

Using the link button, you can slave your disconnected speedlights to your master flash and once you have them linked, from your master flash you can set up your groups, change their mode, or turn them on and off. When shooting an actual event like a wedding reception, plan ahead for your most important moments such as cutting the cake or tossing the  bouquet. Discuss with the bride or DJ where these events will happen and plan your vantage and lighting accordingly.

Link Speedlights for amazing drama in dark locations

The best way to become skilled at linking speedlights is to get ahold of a few speedlights and go out and practice with them. This video shows you how to set up your speedlights to be in sync with each other, but being ready to shoot requires rapid deployment and changes to the settings. So, once your lights are set up, familiarize yourself with rapidly changing the settings on multiple lights. Learn to turn them up or down and on or off light – that way you can adjust or disable any lights that are causing you problems, or turn up lights that are making an effect you want to emphasise. Practice, practice, practice is the key to success with this technique. Pretty soon, making adjustments becomes natural, and you will see a significant increase in the drama and beauty of your photographs. Your audience will ask you again and again “how did you do that?” and “how come my shots don’t look like that?” and that, my friend is what makes you a pro.

Equipment List:

      1. Canon 600RT Speedlite
      2. Yongnuo Wireless Radio Trigger for Speedlights
      3. Tether Tools Rapid Mount SLX Speedlight Wall Mount System
      4. Tether Tools RapidMount Cold Shoe Elbow Mount
      5. Think Tank Urban Disguise 10 Bag

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Lighting a Senior Portrait with the Sun and the Profoto B2

A quick lighting lesson for outdoor portrait sessions.

Devin is an amazing young woman and full of life. Her senior portrait session was a blast for us all. At one point, we were walking from one spot to another (shade to shade – we are in Arizona, after all) and I fell in love with the idea of Devin with her ukulele in this corn field. Cute right? Also very difficult to light naturally, because we are in direct sunlight.

So, I am going to give you the quick recipe for a bright sunlit scenario:

1. Turn your subject away from the sun. This give you a nice rim light to separate her from the background and it keeps her from squinting into the sun. And it keeps her face in her own shadow.

2. Light her with a powerful flash, but NOT from the camera. Our flash is coming from off the left side of the frame, as close to the frame as possible. Lighting her from the side keeps the subject full of volume, rather than flattening her out and looking like an obvious flash. On camera flash is the worst kind of flash.

3. To match the power of the sun, you will need a lot of light from your flash. Whatever flash you have (mine was a Profoto B2) you can increase its power and size by using a deep silver umbrella (on any flash) which will magnify the light by nearly double. So, even if you have a speedlight… you can double its power by using a Profoto Deep Silver Umbrella. Make sure to push the flash all the way into the umbrella.

4. Play with the power of your flash until you have the right mix of ambient light from the sun and flash light from the flash. Notice that we did not lover the ambient light so that everything was dark and rich blue, because it was a bright sunny day. We let it feel that way in the shot and then simply added light on her face to fill in the shadows under the hat and on the entire camera side of her body. But not so bright that we lost the feel of he being in her own shadow.

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Lighting with one light is simple, if you pay attention to and use the light you already have and just use your one additional light to augment the light that already exists.  Don’t fight the light, work with it.  Let God do 90% of the work and you just do the other 10%.

P.S.  Contrary to her look in the behind the scenes photo, Devin was having a good time.  But I think there may have been a bee flying around.

Madison’s Senior Portraits in Gilbert, Arizona

We spent the morning with Madison in Gilbert, Arizona, photographing her senior portraits. Here are my favorites from the shoot.
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