Sunday, April 18, 2010

Family Portrait Tips!

There are a few easy rules to keep in the back of your mind the next time your family gets together for a photo and hands you the camera. Remember these and your photos should look better than ever!

1) Time of day is key for outdoor portraits. No photographer worth his salt will set up an outdoor portrait session for 12pm or 1pm unless he really has no other alternative. The main reason being that the light is just so harsh.
Hard light has multiple negative effects. For one, it creates hard shadows. Since the sun is directly overhead you will typically get a nice long nose shadow, as well as a large portion of the neck being shaded by the chin. These are things we could live with as photographers. But the harsh sun also accentuates wrinkles (which no one likes) and the angle of the mid-day sun keeps light out of the eye sockets. This leaves your eyes much darker than the rest of your face. If your skin is light there is even a chance you will just see dark holes where the eyes were.

By shooting later in the day, such as right before the sun goes completely down, we get much softer light, directional light (which you can use to front-light or back-light), as well as a nice warm orange light which is very complimentary to most skin tones. An added bonus is that the sky typically is very pretty during this time of day and could easily be used as your background.

Sometimes, however, you just don't have a choice as to when you shoot your pictures. If you absolutely have to get a good photo while the sun is high in the sky, try to find somewhere that is shaded. Sometimes the sides of buildings will be in shade, or if you are lucky there might be some nice trees nearby. Just make sure everyone is completely shaded and that there aren't pieces of light hitting parts of the faces. Also make sure everyone is in the shade. If 3 people are shaded and 3 are not, the picture will not turn out very well.

2) Shoot from a higher angle if one is available. If you are just outside in the back yard for a photo, try and set the camera on something that is elevated. Or stand on a chair if you are not going to be in the photo. This makes everyone's chin pull up just a little bit, stretching out the skin under the chin and avoiding the dreaded "double chin". I'd say as a general rule, never shoot a family (or group) photo from a low angle. From this angle everyone has to look down at the camera, accentuating double chins, and your angle provides an excellent view of what is in everyone's nostrils!

3) Avoid cluttered areas. If you look online at a few portrait photographer's websites, you will almost never see a photo that has a cluttered background. When positioning the family for your photos, keep an eye on what is in the background. make sure there aren't a bunch of signs, people, fence posts, etc in the background. A busy background is very distracting and takes away from the quality of your image. Especially make sure no one has any signs, posts, lights, etc sticking out of the top of their heads. These "funny hats", as we call them, are so easily overlooked, yet have such a terrible effect on an image. Just remember, no one wants a stop sign sticking out of their head!
Great examples of backgrounds are fields, walls, trees, water, or anywhere that subtle but has some sort of consistency. The background should be there, but go unnoticed.

4) Avoid dark clothing and dark backgrounds. A black shirt on a person standing in front of a dark background can often lead to what we call the "floating head". The dark shirt will blend into the dark background, leaving only the neck and head to stand out. It isn't very flattering.

5) Finally, leave the pets indoors. A lot of people love having photos done with their pets, especially dogs. However, more often than not, our canine friends don't cooperate. The natural tendency of the owners is to look at the dog until it is looking at the camera, and then real quick try to look up at the camera before the dog is distracted. This usually results in 90% of the photos being of the dog looking away and the people looking at the dog, or the dog looking at the camera and the people still looking at the dog. It is a lot to try to juggle, and pets don't have a very good attention span when it comes to taking photos outdoors.
Its best to just leave the pets inside and concentrate on the people.

I hope some of these tips are helpful!

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Thursday, April 8, 2010


I thought I would put a little "how-to" post on here to show how I've been shooting some of my motion shots on vehicles.
I've had quite a few comments and questions from people since starting to shoot these shots, so I figured it would be a good thing to share. (I've also been asked on more than one occasion if I worked for Google Maps. haha - Don't I wish!)

There are a few parts that you will need to do this type of shot. If you are a professional, or even a serious amateur, you should have most of the parts already. First and most importantly, you will need to purchase a suction mount for your camera. I purchased mine from It is fairly cheap when you consider what photography equipment typically costs. It is essentially a suction cup with a tripod head mounted to it. The tripod head is made by Bogen/Manfrotto, so you are really getting a suction cup AND a new tripod mount for under $100.

You can see what it looks like to the right.
It is really very simple. The yellow plastic covers the cup itself during storage and prevents thing from cutting into it and puncturing it, thus ensuring the suction.

You will also need 2 PocketWizards, and a shutter release cable to run from the PocketWizard do the camera. They run around $100 if you buy them from PocketWizard directly, but FlashZebra has them for under $30.

To get it to stick to the car, remove the yellow plate, and find a flat surface. Then start pushing on the white button repeatedly until the red line is hidden. The button forces the air out of the cup and creates a vacuum.

Once that is set up, its time to attach the camera. Most tripod heads have plates that allow for quick removal of the camera. This head has a built-in screw to ensure the camera doesn't fly off the head while you are driving. Simply screw the camera on and you're done.

I used a Canon 30D for this, as I don't want to run the risk of my good camera falling off of a vehicle. However, I have never had any issues with this setup and have used it at least a half-dozen times or more. But I don't want to take any chances. However, if you only have one camera, you should be fine. Before I had my new camera I used the 30D on at least 4 or 5 outtings with this rigging and never had a single issue.

Since cameras aren't cheap, we are going to be using a 'safety net' in the unlikely even that something goes wrong. Harbor Freight has "dent removal" suction cups for about $10 each.
They work nicely in combination with some bungee cords.

I put the secondary suction cup a little under a food from the first one (you will need to adjust this based on the length of your bungee cords).
Then run one cord through the loop in the camera strap so if it falls, the camera sill at least stay on the side of your car until you can stop. The second bungee I wrap around the primary suction cup itself to try to keep that from hitting the ground should it fail.

On a side note, try to find bungee cords with plastic ends. You don't want to scratch up your paint with the metal hooks if one should fly loose while you are setting everything up.

The final setup should look like this:

In this shot I taped the camera strap up so it wasn't blowing in the wind. I have had some shots ruined because the strap flew up into the shot, or over the lens.

Once that is all secure, you can put your pocket wizard on the camera's hot shoe. Set it to "remote" and chose the channel you would like. Then attach the shutter release cable to the "camera" outlet. Plug the other end of the cord into your camera.
On Nikons, this is higher up on the camera, to the left of the prism. On Canon's it is at the bottom of the camera, typically where all the other plugs go.

The cord should have a switch on it, which will keep your camera from "going to sleep" in between shots. Most of us don't want our cameras on constantly, so the typical auto-shut0ff time is about 1-2 minutes. This switch will keep the camera on past those two minutes. However, just as a precaution, I would go into the camera's menu and set the sleep time to about 15-30 minutes. That way you don't have to worry about missing a great shot because your camera shut off by accident.

It is important to note at this point, that if you want to be able to shoot instantly while driving, the lens must be in "manual focus" mode. Otherwise the camera will try to focus on whatever it can while you are moving, which doesn't always yield good results and does not ensure an immediate "click" when you push the trigger button. I typically let the camera auto-focus to about where I think I want my focal point in my images, then switch it to MF. The usual purpose of shooting with the camera on the vehicle is to get cool streaking shots, so setting a high aperture will not only ensure good depth of field should your subject not be exactly in the focal region, but will also slow your shutter down enough so you can get a good blurring effect.
I'd recommend leaving the shutter open anywhere from 2-5 seconds per frame. If your shots are still overexposed at that shutter speed, you may want to purchase an ND filter to put on your lens. This should help a lot.

Run a quick test to make sure everything is working properly. Turn the camera and pocket wizards on, and while standing next to the cameras, fire a few test rounds. At this time, you can also adjust the camera to get the composition just right for your shot.
Once you are happy with how it looks, you're ready to hit the road!

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Moving on up

May I just take a moment to enjoy this progress I have made?
I looked at the analytics for my website and blog today and on the web site stats I noticed that someone had come to my site by way of a search on Google. This normally is a result of someone searching for "Radiant Squares", or "Ray Detwiler". However this search was different, and I immediately had to do a double-take.
Could it be?

The search terms were "Dallas Commercial Photographers."
So I quickly replicated the search on Google (hoping secretly to be the first name that popped up - hey, I can dream...!). After a quick reality check, I found myself on page 2!!!! Which is much better than what I had expected when I realized I was not on page 1. I'm typically about 30-40 pages in if you search for "Dallas Photographer". So it is very encouraging to find myself ranked in the top 20 results of the World's favorite search engine. And in the sector of business that I WANT to be in on top of that!

This is a great way to start a Wednesday! (Ok, it didn't really start with that, but its not afternoon yet, so its close enough.)

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