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!