Why I Shoot My Portraits Outdoors

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Imagine a dreamy outdoor portrait, with the sun streaming in and warm tones making the face glow. Doesn’t that sound just lovely? Now, I’m not saying to leave the studio and never come back. I just think we need to take a moment to appreciate my favorite thing ever: Natural Light.

Natural light has a lot of advantages against studio light. It’s warm, gorgeous, and you can try to replicate it, but it will never quite look the same. I personally think that you can achieve more depth and will have a more vibrant image rather than just a solid white or black background. Don’t get me wrong, a formal studio portrait is necessary skill for every photographer to know, but I much prefer to get moving and head outside for environmental portraits (and that doesn’t mean you can’t add some fill light or strobes!). You have so many options to experiment with outdoors, like sunrise, shadows, shade, sunset, and even nighttime! Think of the world as a huge studio for you to work with. The options are practically endless!

The next thing that separates indoor from outdoor: Depth of Field. And my favorite thing ever, Bokeh. The greater distance that the model stands from the background will create a more shallow depth of field, creating pleasing images that really focus in and make the model pop from the background. I also like the background variety that can be achieved with outdoor shoots. Yesterday, we went on a little walking adventure and found an abandoned building to shoot in. It turned out to be so cool. I find that a quick 180 degree turn can lend itself to totally new backgrounds, colors, and textures to add the scene. The best advice I ever got was to always move around and don’t be afraid to try new angles, framing, and scenes. 

I love shooting my portraits outdoors because it gives a whole new feel to the images. However, shooting outdoors does come with it’s own set of problems. Like (just this week), snow and rain. And as tough as it might be, you, the models, and the crew just have to work around that. I find that it’s definitely worth the extra effort to mix things up and have an outdoor adventure with your camera. So head out, find some cool locations, and start shooting. The warm, bright natural light and new space to shoot will be a breath of fresh air for you, literally.

Why I Do This Photography Thing

Inspiration

Usually I focus on writing about tips and techniques within photography, but with my college career culminating this year, I have been thinking a lot lately about why I even got into this in the first place. And the truth is, I fell into it.

I picked up my parents point and shoot camera, like many kids do, in middle school. I remember it was summer, and I took a photo of a lady with a white sun hat that had blue beads that matched her blue shirt. She was looking away, and I clicked the button. I gasped when I saw it, without even realizing that I shot my first portrait. When I showed it to my mom, to my dismay, she scolded me for taking photos of a stranger. She didn’t see what I saw: the beauty captured within that moment.

Moments. That’s really what it all boils down to, for me. I capture moments, sometimes insignificant and easily forgotten, sometimes grand and gorgeous. I look for things that other people might miss, for moments in life that carry emotion, and connection, to other human beings. That’s what I love about shooting portraits, whether it’s weddings, seniors, or just a candid of a stranger in the park. 

On days like today, when I have a long day of my internship, then night class, then Photoshop homework, then answering emails, setting up shoots, and applying to grad school, I try to remind myself why I do this. It’s for those moments. They keep me going.

How to Talk Camera in 5 Minutes or Less

photography tips

Going to a photo gallery opening? Want to impress your new art major girlfriend? Or just want to sound cool when conversing with friends? Check out my quick guide for camera terms!

Lens: This one is easy. It’s that piece of glass that is attached to your camera. A Zoom Lensis simply one that zooms in and out so you can crop how much of the scene that you want to be in the frame. A Prime Lens just means that it cannot zoom because the focal length is fixed and unmoving. How to use it in a sentence: “Wow, nice prime lens! I bet that shoots so sharp!” 

Exposure: This word means how much light is being exposed in a photograph. How do you know when a photo is overexposed (too much light is being let in the camera, so it’s too dark), underexposed (not enough light is being let in, so it’s too bright) or the correct exposure? Well, it’s a good exposure when you can still make out details in the shadow areas and in the highlight areas.

But please note that photographers use the word “exposure” interchangeably. Some variations: “I just took an exposure of that tree, and boy does it look great!” “Ugh, I’m so annoyed because my camera keeps overexposing the sky. I’ll have to bring up the shadows in Photoshop.”

Focus: What can be clearly and sharply seen in the photo. The out of focus area is affectionately called bokeh and can deliver some beautiful results (see my other post about bokeh here). How to use it in a sentence: “Just got some great bokeh from shooting really shallow!”

Shutter Speed: To take a photograph, the camera opens its shutter and then closes it again. The term shutter speed refers to how quickly or slowly the camera does that (and modern cameras can do it really fast—up to 4,000th of a second!) Common shutter speeds could be anywhere from 1/250th of a second or all the way up to 15 seconds for a photo taken at night!

Aperture: It can also be called an F-stop. The aperture works together with the shutter speed to create a photo. How big or small of aperture you use to execute a photograph will determine two things: 1) how much light is let into the photo and 2) how much is in focus.

An aperture such as f/16 or f/22 is a very small opening, so not much light would be let in (called underexposing). You would need to leave the shutter open for a lot longer so enough light would enter into the camera. The reverse (having an aperture of, say, f/2.8) would be a big opening and much more light would be let in, so the shutter would be faster because the camera would not need to be open nearly as long to let in enough light. Use it in a sentence: “Looks like I need to adjust my shutter speed to a bit slower so I can capture the detail in those shadow areas.”

Making sense yet? There’s just a few more to go, and you’ll be a camera expert!

Depth of Field: It sounds crazy, but actually how open your aperture is will determine how much depth is in focus. If you want everything in focus, use an aperture of f/16 or f/22. If you want just a little bit in focus (creating bokeh!) use, say, f/2.8 or f/1.4.

ISO: It determines how sensitive your camera is to light. How to use it in a sentence: “I better turn my ISO down before my shot gets too grainy!”

White balance: It determines how warm or cold your photo is. Now, I know what you’re thinking: How can a photo have a temperature?! But it does! Warm means it is a bit too yellow, and cold is too blue. This can be easily adjusted in Photoshop. Use it in a sentence: “Wow, the sun is so bright today that all of my shots are turning out really warm!”

I hope that helped you with some camera terminology! If all else fails, just say, “Are you Nikon or Cannon?” and the photographer will talk for at least fifteen minutes about their preference, so just nod along and you’ll be in the clear.

3 Skills You Need To Be A Wedding Photographer

photography tips

Being a wedding photographer is an intense and quite stressful job with long hours (and benefits of dinner and wedding cake at the end of the day). But besides all that, wedding photographers have to be very versatile when shooting. Wedding photographers are basically three types of photographers all combined into one.

1. Documentary Photojournalist: Those candids of the bride and her mom after she puts her dress on. The photo of that laugh that the bride and groom share at the reception. All the dance floor fun caught on camera. These are the product of a photojournalist, someone who captures all of the important moments, and the small details too. Try to always be on the lookout for special moments to photograph. The key to this type of photography is to place yourself in the background, so no one feels like they are being photographed, and so natural moments can happen. Best lens for the job: 70-200mm f/2.8

2. Portrait Photographer: The well-lit, natural-light headshot of the bride after she gets ready. All of the perfectly-posed portraiture of the wedding party at the church. The gorgeous sunset length photo of the bride and groom that looks like it could be on the cover of Vogue. These are the photos from the portrait photographer, someone who knows how to pose people and use lighting and angles to their advantage. To shoot successful wedding portraits and group photos, know your light source(s) and become an expert at posing groups of two to twenty. Best lens for the job: 50mm f/1.4

3. Fine Art Photographer: The macro shots of the wedding rings. The perfectly composed still life images of the groom’s shoes, with his tie delicately draped over the side. The long exposure shot of the bride and groom’s nighttime exit with sparklers. All of these are the product of a fine art photographer, who lets their creative side out and turns the most simple shot into a work of art. For the best creative and fine art wedding photos, try stepping outside your comfort zone with new angles, dramatic lighting, or an interesting background. Best lens for the job: Macro 105mm f/2.8 

So, the next time you see a wedding photographer frantically running around at the reception or artfully posing a group of eighty people after the ceremony, thank them for their hard work. Or just hand them some cake.

So, What’s Bokeh, Anyway?

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Bokeh is a camera term and a Japanese word that translates to “blur.” It’s the quality of being out of focus rendered by the camera’s lens in an image. Bokeh is visually appealing to the eye because it forces us to focus on the subject and blurs out everything else in the image, creating a shallow depth of field.

Why am I bringing this up? Because bokeh is what changes everything. Bokeh takes the casual amateur photographer shooting pictures of their family and makes them a high-quality portrait photographer. I know, because that’s how I got started.

People always ask me how they can take better pictures. This will always be my first answer: Get a lens that can create bokeh. The problem with kit lenses that come as a standard with the DSLR camera body is that they create virtually no shallow depth of field.

To have a shallow depth of field, the aperture on the lens must go to somewhere in the gorgeous range of 2.8-1.4, but kit lenses only go to 5.6, on average. So, all the pretty little blurry circles that make the subject pop out in a sharp image just blend in with the subject, and therefore there is no bokeh. What a shame.

There are other benefits of shooting shallow, too! The aperture is open much wider and therefore more light gets let in the camera, so you need a faster shutter speed. This can be really helpful when wanting to capture motion, or if you are in a low lighting situation.

For those looking to try it out, I recommend a 50mm f/1.4 lens of any brand. It’s prime, which means that you can’t zoom in with the lens, but it’s a great way to get an inexpensive lens that you can practice with.

If you don’t feel comfortable shooting on manual, try aperture priority! It will let you set the aperture that you want (anywhere in that nice bokeh range—f/1.4-2.8!) and then the camera will do the rest! And remember, when in doubt, just shoot shallow and see what happens!