Lighting Your Subject

As a professional photographer, when I look at snapshots posted on Facebook, my first reaction is often to cringe at the poor lighting and how much it negatively affects the quality of the photograph.

Lighting is such a simple thing to change, but it is not something that comes natural to the average person with their smart phone or point-and-shoot camera.

Cameras do not necessarily capture what the eye sees. Or, maybe I should say that it doesn’t capture an image the WAY the eye sees it. This is why professional photographers spend so much time learning about, and practicing with, exposure, ISO, and white balance. Those all affect how the camera takes in and reads the light. I’m not going to bore you with all the technical details. Instead, my goal is to help you quickly, and easily use light the in the best way!

Lighting Your Subject

This is super important. After you’ve decided what your subject is, then you need to determine the best way to light that subject. 

I was able to get one of my lovely, senior girls to help me out with some examples. I took the photos with my DSLR, but I used the auto settings in order to mimic using a point-and-shoot (which is the same as all those people who buy DSLRs and keep them on auto, which is absolutely a waste of money). These photos are SOOC (straight out of camera - no editing), so they are a good example of what a point-and-shoot would be like. 

Lit From Behind
In this first photo, I placed Mikayla right in front of the window, facing into the room. The only light is coming from the window.

As you can see, Mikayla is completely in silhouette. I’m guessing that this is probably not the look you are going for when taking photos of your friends and family! Remember how I said that the camera doesn’t “see” things the way we do? This is a perfect example of this because even though I could still see Mikayla’s face, the camera isn’t recording what I can see. The camera compensates for the light coming through the window in order to not overexpose the sky, thus underexposing our subject. This is an extreme example, but a good one. Many people place their subjects with the light behind them. Even if it is not extreme enough to place their subject in silhouette, it usually results in a very dark subject. Not at all an ideal photo! You want to be very careful when putting your subject between you and your light source, especially if it is your only light source!

Side Light
Let’s move our subject and try lighting her from the side.

Moving Mikayla slightly so that the light is coming in from the side, you can already tell what a difference it makes. Since the light from the window is the only light, this creates a dramatic effect with shadows on one side of our subject’s face. If there had been more light in the room from another light source (a lamp, another window), the effect would have been much softer.

Let’s try a small change by having our subject face the window.

Mikayla is still sitting with the window on her left, but I had her look out the window for this shot. Now her face is bathed in the soft light from the window. With my camera on auto settings, it is a little harsher than I would have liked. A good solution to this would be to move her a little bit further away from the window to soften the light some more, but it isn’t a bad SOOC photo.

Facing the Light
Yet another lighting choice is to have our subject turn towards the window.

With just the lighting from the room, this is our best choice for an even light on our subject. Mikayla is lovely with this genuine smile from laughing and very little shadows on her face. 

Moving our subject farther away from the light, but still facing the window is yet another option.

From farther away, the light coming in from the window is more evenly diffused. As long as I am still between the light and my subject, I am able to get a well-lit photo. This half of the room seemed fairly dark, but the camera was able to compensate for that (even on auto settings), but I won't bore you with the details on how. 

Stepping It Up a Notch

If you are actually staging photos like I did, you have another option open to you…bounce light! This isn’t something you would use every day, but if are looking to get some close ups with your subject facing you and posed, then this is something you could try at home!

Here we can see the set up for this bounce light. I used a piece of foam board (you could also use poster board or something similar) as a cheap reflector to bounce the light back up into Mikayla’s face. 

You can see how the reflector bounced the available light back up into Mikayla’s face, removing most of the shadows. I had her pull the reflector in a little closer to her than she had been holding it in the wide shot, and I angled it up a little more to remove most of the remaining shadows. She is sitting with the window to her left, but by bouncing the light back, you get light coming from more than just one direction. You can play with placing your reflector in different spots and at different angles in order to get the look you are going for. This is a great way to add light without using electric lighting which can affect the color of the photo, or cause further shadows depending on the location of the light.

Take time to pay attention to where light is coming from in relation to your subject(s) prior to taking photos. Even if you cannot move your subject, especially if you are catching them in action, you can move the light by moving the camera (You!!) to a different position relative to your subject(s).

My number one Takeaway Tip is to place yourself between your subject and your light source!

I hope I was able to shed some light on this subject. (I’m pretty puny, huh!?!) I would love to see examples of photos you have taken with your new knowledge of lighting. You can share them in the comments section.

If you have any questions about lighting or any other photography topic, please let me know. You may inspire a future blog post!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information!

Credit Your Photographer

You finally got your prints and digital files from that amazing photo session. You LOVE them! And of course…you can’t wait to share them all over Facebook and Instagram. 

Social media is the marketing of the future for photographers. We want our clients to share their photos as much as possible. Telling your friends how much you loved your photos is the best advertisement there is and beats every paid add out there. However, if you don't credit your photographer, not only may you be breaking your contract, you may also be costing your photographer future business. 

Five Reasons Why You Should Credit Your Photographer

1.  You LOVE your photos and experience.
2.  Friends who are looking for a professional photographer can check out yours.
3.  You want your photographer to be successful and gain more business…from YOUR photos!
4.  It’s easy to do!
5.  It’s the right thing to do! Photographers deserve credit for their work.

This shout out made my day. AND...gained me several new followers!

Ways You Can Give Credit

1.  @name your photographer
2.  Use the hashtag(s) your photographer uses for their business
3.  Tag your photographer in your photo

1.  Share your photos directly from your photographer’s page so it links back
2.  Tag your photographer and/or their page in the caption of the photo
3.  Share a link to your photographer’s website in the caption

In General
1.  Be sure to link back to your photographer in some way using their “handle”
2.  Always give the name of your photographer and their business
3.  Add a link to your photographer’s website 

A Word of Warning
Be sure you have permission to share photos on social media prior to doing so, and DO NOT edit them in any way. If you are working with a professional, you signed a contract. It is highly likely there was something in that contract making you liable for any picture you post or edit without permission. 

Here is an example from my contract:
Social Media/Internet: Client agrees to not alter images posted to social media sites (includes, but is not limited to: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr!, personal blogs, etc). Client also agrees to give Photographer credit for any and all photographs posted to social media sites. Client may not scan proofs or portraits in order to post to sites, but may purchase digital copies of photographs that can be posted. Any DVD/CD purchased of portraits or proofs constitutes permission to post on social media sites with above stipulations.

Your photographer has put a lot of time and effort into making you look the best in your photos. I can tell you from personal experience that it is very disheartening and frustrating to see photos I’ve taken posted without any reference at all to me or my business. It is frustrating to see all the comments about how great the photos are, how beautiful the subject, but no one knows who the photographer is. Those are possible clients that I am not being exposed to unless they take the time to ask. 

Every time I see someone post professional photos without giving credit, I shudder a little. That is someone’s livelihood. And in today’s world of sharing through social media verses actually printing and handing out photos, those posts are even more likely to lessen the income a photographer might get from future print sales. This is especially prevalent with school photos. Every time a local school has school picture day, Facebook is inundated with people posting their child’s photo. This is actually not okay. I’ve even seen people post photos of pictures with a huge “Do Not Copy” watermark on it. You are doing exactly what it says not to do on the picture! 

Consider this: you would not want someone to take credit for anything you created. The same applies to not giving credit where credit it is due. Give that shout out!

Hopefully this post helped you see why it is important to give your photographer a shout out by crediting their work on social media. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this. Have you shared photos without crediting the photographer? Would you still do it? What is your favorite social media site for sharing photos?

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information!

Why Hire a Professional Photographer?

There are a lot people out there with a DSLR camera, so why hire a professional? I think the first question you need to ask yourself is: what kind of pictures am I looking for? What is the event? If you are hiring a photographer for your wedding or for senior photos, those are once in a lifetime events. Those are photos that are going to be hanging on your wall or on the mantel for years and years to come. 

They Are Practicing on You!
Photographers looking to get into the photography business need people to practice on, but be aware, that is exactly what they are doing: practicing on you! If you are just wanting some simple family photos, this may be the way to go. At the very least, you can always have them re-done by a professional if you don’t like the results. Budding photographers need that practice, and I’m all for letting them get it. Just make sure that you are not over-paying them. I have known some people that claim to be professional photographers whose pictures I would never pay for, so buyer beware!

At this point, I would love to show you photos of some of the bad "professional portraits" I have come across over the years, but that would by highly unprofessional of me.

I think most photographers just starting out in the business charge very little and hand out CDs instead of taking the time to order prints. That’s pretty textbook. Plus, it sure is easier and less time-consuming to hand out a CD than to spend time ordering prints! 

I know I did this as I was going from focusing on landscape photography to portrait photography. Even though I had been taking photos for almost 20 years, I would never have started out charging for portrait photography. In fact, I think anyone wanting to become a photographer needs to go through the steps of: finding people willing to pose for them for free, then charging just a little bit for a session as they get better ($50-$100), then creating some packages and charging a little bit more. After they get really comfortable with portrait work, take some classes, and have a portfolio, they can then create a business model and start charging as a professional photographer. This shouldn’t be a 2-3 month process, but a 2-3 year process. It takes awhile to establish a style and perfect your ability to create stunning portrait work.

Photographers are always improving. At least good photographers are. I look back at the work I did a year ago and can see how much I have improved. If I go back five years ago, I can see how much I’ve been able to learn in order to provide my clients with high-end portraits.

Photos That Never Get Printed
Here’s the problem with CDs…many of my clients never printed pictures from those CDs back in the early days of my career. This was especially true when it came to senior clients. Sometimes I had seniors come to me two years later asking if they could get another copy of their CD because they finally decided to get prints made, but they couldn’t find the CD. How many times do you take pictures and they never do anything but sit on your computer? Knowing you always “have tomorrow” to get those photos printed, often means that tomorrow never comes. 

Almost 2,000 photos on my MacBook Pro's iPhoto alone!
This isn't even a fraction of the photos I haven't printed...
and I'm a photographer!

Print Quality
Even when photos get printed, the print quality is vastly different when you compare commercial print labs (Walmart, Walgreens, Cosco, Snapfish, etc) to professional print labs. Professional print labs are very good about not only using high quality, heirloom paper, but they stay true to the editing done by the photographer. This is not true from commercial print labs. I have found that Walmart prints are over-saturated and the contrast has been boosted as well. Walgreen prints often have a greenish cast to them. Neither of these are outcomes you would want from photos that you are going to display in your home.

For a good comparison between commercial labs and pro labs, check out this link

The Pros of Hiring a Pro
Sure you can go out and hire someone that is just starting out in photography for less than you can a professional. You probably will get a CD and be able to print off as many prints as you want. Being able to print off your own pictures isn’t necessarily worth giving up the quality and knowledge you are getting from a Pro.

What Are Your Memories Worth?
Yes, you will pay more for your prints when you hire a professional photographer. Let’s discuss why those prints are costing more than if you went and printed them off yourself.

Most professional photographers are making their money off of print sales. Usually you will be charged a session or sitting fee. This pays for the photographer’s time taking and processing photos. After that, the print cost is what is paying for all that time your photographer is spending editing your photos. I often spend around 20 hours processing and editing a senior session, and around 40 hours on a wedding. Now you need to ask yourself, how much would you expect to make at your job for a week’s work? $400? Doubtful. This is why some photographers outsource their editing. Editing takes up time that could be spent on more sessions. Personally, I want to have full control over my work, so I do all my own editing. Plus, I really enjoy it!

You can also expect a professional photographer to have lots of great ideas when it comes to locations, poses, composition and lighting. Don’t think of it as paying more for prints, but as paying to make sure your memories are taken care of in the best way possible. Remember: You get what you pay for! This couldn’t be more true than when you are looking at whether to hire a professional photographer or a beginner. Having said that, just because someone charges a lot of money, doesn’t mean they are the best out there, so be sure to vet your photographer before hiring them.

When you are hiring a pro, you can expect to get the royal treatment. Good photographers will go out of their way to make sure you are getting exactly what you want from your session and prints. You should be able to get the location, editing, print sizes and special orders you want from your photographer. If you don’t know what you want, they will have all kinds of ideas for you. Professional photographers have also spent quite a bit of money on equipment: cameras, lenses, lights, backdrops, props and more, and they know how to use those things. Most photographers who are just starting out cannot provide you with those services yet as they are not prepared to do so. Pros are already familiar with how to get the most out of every session and should be able to walk you through any questions or concerns you have. 

Pro or No?
So should you hire a professional or not? If you are getting once in a lifetime photos taken (i.e. weddings, engagements, senior portraits, maternity, newborn or yearly family photos), I would hire a professional. If you have already had some professional family portraits taken that year but would like some extras for some reason, then go help out someone looking to learn the business. Find someone who seems to have potential and give them a shot!

Check back for my up and coming post about questions you should ask your professional photographer!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information!

What is Your Subject?

The first step to creating better photographs at home is to know what your subject is. That sounds way too simple to be a legitimate tip, right? However, knowing your subject as a photographer isn’t as simple as just pointing the camera in the right direction.

How many times have you taken pictures of your family and wondered why they just don’t seem to capture the real essence of the people you love? All the right people are in the photos, but something is missing. 

When photographers talk about finding their subject, they are talking about focusing in on their subject and making it the focal point. Let’s say that you are taking pictures of your kids opening their presents on Christmas morning, you are going to want to get up from your chair and get on the floor, down to their level, and get close! You don’t need to get the whole living room in your picture. The further away you are from your kids, the less likely you are going to really be able to capture those priceless expressions of joy and surprise. 

Let’s look at an example. I just went out in my yard with my iPhone for these photos, and there is no post procession (editing) done to them. This is what photographers call SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera). For my subject I chose my water hydrant; not an interesting subject, I know. 

In this first picture you see the typical shot you would get if someone was told to go take a picture of that hydrant. It is far away and located smack dab in the center of the shot.
Why would someone even take this photo?

In this next picture I pulled in a little closer to the hydrant. While it is now a little bit clearer what the subject of the photo is, it is still not an interesting photo by any means.

Still boring

In this last photo I got in really close to my subject. I decided to place the sunset behind it so that the hydrant is in silhouette. I also off-set it a bit to add interest, but more on that in a future post. This really brings some interest to what was a terribly boring photo of a water hydrant in the yard. 
Much more interesting, even without the additional editing I would normally do on a photo

I combed my photos from Christmas to try to find another example and managed to find a shot where I took a photo from across the room, then another one where I got in close.

This photo is too cluttered with different things that draw your eyes away from the subject. We will discuss more about backgrounds in a future post, but there is just too much going on in this photo.

It's just too far away to be interesting.

In this close up we can now see that my nephew is working on a new Lego set that he was given for Christmas. It's not a perfect photo by any means, but it is way more interesting than the previous shot.

He's captivated by his new Lego set!

 Here are a few more photos that show how focusing in on your subject can really help make those snapshots special!

My Dad is definitely a tool man! 

When you are in a room full of people, it is important that you get in close
to keep other family members from drawing attention away from your true subject 

What they are looking at is way less important than this moment between a great-grandmother and her great-grandaughter!

How sad would it have been to miss this face by being too far away?

Now I want you to grab your camera and go put this into practice. Test it out by taking those wider shots that include much more than your subject, then take another one where you pull in close. Sure there are times when a wide shot makes for a great shot, but that doesn’t usually apply to family photos. Share your results in the comments. I'd love to see your photos and read your comments and questions!

Be sure to come back for future Tips for Your Snaps!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information!

Getting Better Photographs at Home

Taking pictures is easy, right? All you have to do is point and shoot. Today, cameras do it all for you. They are completely automatic. You don’t have to learn about shutter speed, ISO, focal length or white balance; your camera can make all those choices for you. However, even if you never take your camera off the fully auto settings, there are still a lot of things you can do to make your photos better.

These photos were taken with my iphone 5. These were quick snaps without any set up or plan. Even so, I was able to get some good shots. I will be talking about some of the reasons why and how you too can learn to quickly grab those fleeting moments!

You have to be quick with a 4 year old if you want to catch the moment!

This was taken quickly while on my way to work,
but it still turned out to be a pretty good sunrise photo! 

I’m going to take you through some easy tutorials that are designed to help you get the most out of your point and shoot camera or even your camera phone! Be sure to follow the blog and check me out on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with all the great Tips for Your Snaps!

What would you like to know how to do? Ask questions or leave comments and maybe a future post will be dedicated to your question!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography.

What to Wear on Your Photo Session - Senior Girls Edition

Everyone wants to know what they should wear on their photo shoot. While there are no hard and fast rules, I've got some great tips for you! 

The Quick Change -  The first thing I tell my senior girls when they ask what they should wear is to wear a cami or bandeau so that they can easily change tops. Often we are out in a field, on the river, or in a back alley - places where a bathroom (or any private place to change) is hard to find or not close by. Wearing a favorite pair of jeans and bringing along several different tops, as well as shoes and accessories, makes it easy to quickly change your look on the go! Because who wants all of their senior portraits to be in the same outfit? I’ve also had some girls wear spankies or a similar small, tight pair of shorts so they can do complete outfit changes anywhere without feeling too conspicuous.

What Makes You Feel Beautiful? - Always choose outfits that make you feel beautiful. Maybe that means you found a beautiful new dress, or maybe it means pulling out an old favorite from your closet. Don’t get hung up on the need to buy new clothes or have something special for the day though. Everyone owns at least one outfit that makes them feel good about themselves!

Be Yourself! -  Sure it is fun to have at least one really special outfit, one that makes you feel sexy or especially beautiful, but what really matters is that you bring outfits that represent who you are! Trust me, 10 years down the road you will regret wearing something in your senior portraits that wasn’t the real you. Do you have a favorite shirt? Do you normally wear your hair curly or straight? Have at least some of your portraits taken wearing a casual, everyday outfit that you love. I have had some of the most beautiful girls wear some gorgeous outfits (and man, are they knockouts in those outfits), but the photos they tend to love the most are ones with them in jeans/shorts and a favorite top.

The Hair?!?! - I know this is a huge issue for some of my girls. I have had some that spend hours on their hair prior to getting their pictures taken. Others tend to leave it more natural. There are definitely two ways to look at this: You want to feel beautiful. AND You want to look like yourself. Okay, maybe that is just two things combined into one; either way, I recommend not getting a major cut or color prior to your photo session. By all means, touch up your roots and get a trim, but I would stay away from a major color change or new hair style. I would, however, bring the necessary tools to do a hairstyle change in the middle of the session. Maybe you want to put your hair up or curl it for part of your photos. A good photographer should allow time for these changes.

Lari went from straight to curly in the same session which adds a big change to her photos.

Accessorize! - While I am not one who wears much jewelry myself, accessories can be another great way to change up outfits or add a little something special. Bring several different earring and necklace choices. Add a sparkly headband. If you love hats, wear one in a few of your photos! Scarves are a great way to add a pop of color, and if you are like me, you have lots of them that you could bring along to help change up your outfits!
Jandale has on the same outfit
but with the addition of a scarf and a quick hair change, she has really changed up her look!

What NOT to Wear! - What not to wear is almost as important as what you should wear. People will say that you shouldn’t wear things with big and bold patterns, and while that is true, that is not the most important thing in my opinion.  The most important thing to me is to never wear something you wouldn’t normally wear. Let me tell you a story: a million years ago my brother had his senior pictures taken. I’m not sure whose decision it was, his or our mother’s, but he wore his class ring. Not a big deal, right? Debatable. That giant ring (those boys’ rings sure were huge) stands out in all of his photos. Maybe it doesn’t look odd to strangers, but I can’t remember him ever wearing that ring in his everyday life. It just looks odd in those pictures. If there is something like that a parent is insisting you wear, do so for a few photos, but not all. And, oh yeah… don’t wear big, bold prints!

I would also be careful of the following:
  • Bright or crazy-colored nail polish - Those blue nails might look good, but I’m guessing you will be sorry in 10 years…or 10 months
  • Anything that might be too short or too revealing. - You should have an outfit that makes you feel fabulous, but don’t pick something that you are going to have to constantly monitor to make sure you aren’t showing too much for Dad and Grandma!
  • Stripes - Man am I a fan of stripes. Half of my tops are stripes. It’s bad enough that people have noticed and commented on it. However, stripes are not always the most flattering pattern. They can highlight every bump and curve as well as any bunch or gathering in the material when you are in any pose that isn’t just standing up straight. 
  • Bright colored underwear - Nothing is worse than forgetting that you put on your hot pink bra, except remembering that you also wore the matching underwear! Wear a nude color so that it doesn’t show through any of your outfits. And remember to pack that strapless bra if you are going to need it for a dress or top.
I hope that these tips help you prepare for your session. If you have any other tips, please share them! 

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information! 

Ask the Expert

What would you like to know about taking better snapshots of your family and friends? Your questions help fuel the blog posts, so ask away!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information! 

Capturing the Moment

Obviously, I LOVE taking pictures, especially of those I love. My family says that they are blessed to have someone in their family that is a photographer and can capture those every day moments. But you too can be your family's photographer! All it takes is a little extra knowhow. Composition, lighting, and knowing your subject are so important. I am going to help you to capture those special, every day moments in your family's life. Be sure to follow my blog on How To's and Tips to help you be the one to truly capture those special memories in your life.

My grandmother and my niece at Christmas

My niece and her best friend holding hands while searching for Easter eggs

My niece giving me "the look" while digging through her stocking

A friend's kid after eating the chocolate found in her Easter egg

A friend and her little girl watching the 4th of July Parade

A friends little boy at our 4th of July party

One of my best friends and another friend's baby girl at the 4th of July party

A friend's little girl with her "prizes" from the 4th of July Parade

A friend and his granddaughter at our 4th of July party

You too can have great "snapshots" like these. Yes, I used a pro-DSLR, but there are lots of tips on how to get great photos like these with your point and shoot camera!

Be sure to follow my blog for tips on how to capture moments like these!

If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information! 

Senior Portraits

I LOVE taking senior portraits! If I could make a living doing nothing else, I would (unfortunatly, I live in a small, rural area, so that isn't likely). Seniors are so much fun, and senior portraits are such an important part of a senior's life. I love being able to truly capture a senior. They are so much fun to work with. Scroll down for a few examples of my Class of 2015 seniors.




If you are near the south-central Missouri area and are looking for a professional photographer, please contact me at Gifts of Nature Photography. Like my Facebook page for more photos, tips and information! 

I'm Back...and the Format is Going to Be Different!

So I am back to blogging about my photography after about 3 years away. I am so excited to be doing this "new" adventure.

There are going to be some changes to the blog. No longer is it going to be just posts of my photos. I'm sure there will be some, but no. Mostly, this is going to be a blog to help people with their own personal photos as well as how to prepare for a session with a professional photographer.

I have spent the last 3 years building my photography business, Gifts of Nature Photography and working on becoming a professional photographer. That time has been well spent, but I am now ready to help others! I am going to mainly focus, for now at least, on helping people prepare for their photography sessions as well as those looking to take better candid photos of their family.

I think it is very important that people are prepared for their photography sessions. I take more senior portraits than any thing else right now. Seniors are definitely my favorite (and probably why I teach high schoolers!). While I have learned to be able to work with any situation, it is so much easier when the client already has a vision of their own. I am here to help you be that client, to gain a vision.

I also want to help you get the most out of those family snapshots! While professional family photos are great to really showcase your family once a year, it is those snapshots of every day life that are so important! I want to help people create stunning snapshots!

My Niece - Just a snapshot of her playing in the corn crib

Be sure to follow my blog for posts on how to do all of these things. And more!!