Posts Tagged ‘Photo Setup’

November 10, 2017

Low Key Maternity Photography

How can I possibly be 32 weeks already? It suddenly dawned on me that despite approaching the midway point in the third trimester, the only “bump” photos I have are a handful of bathroom selfies at 8 weeks when I couldn’t believe I was already showing. I needed to fix that, and I waned to challenge myself to try at something different.

Low key photos are low light, mostly dark photos that emphasize shadow and shape. I tried to do low-key bump portraits while pregnant with Alexis, but couldn’t master the light. I’ve experimented with dark background, spotlight photos before using a desk/craft light, but the craft light wasn’t strong enough to take photos of a larger subject (like my bump.)

This time around I decided to get a long, skinny adjustable craft light since I can almost always use more high quality desk lamps. I settled on TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp since it allowed me to adjust both brightness & color temperature. As an added bonus, TaoTronics had a newer model so the one I purchased was on the cheaper side. As long as it’s a bright white light and the right narrow shape, any lamp will do. To further control the light I cut up the Amazon box it shipped in and made cardboard flaps. I taped a flap to each side of the lamp, to focus the light so it wouldn’t illuminate the wall behind me.

As a general rule of thumb the darker the photo, the more visible the ISO noise. To make this photo work I had to shot at a very low ISO setting, which means a longer exposure time. Unfortunately, unlike my previous spotlight attempts I needed to shot with the room dark. The larger the subject, the further back the craft light needs to be. The further back the craft light, the less bright the light is when it reaches the subject. I shot the above photo ISO 100, f/5, 1/13 a second. Normally I’m comfortable shooting at ISO 1000, but it was just too much noise.
The above photo is pushing the boundaries of what my 5 year old camera can do.

If you want to attempt a similar photo, here are my tips:
– Where light color, possibly skin toned clothes. I tried this in a dark sweater and everything other than my hands all but disappeared.
– Use a Lower ISO settings to avoid noise. I know I said that before, but this is one instance where a little noise can really ruin your photo.
– Adjust the cardboard flaps (you can use masking tape at the tops and the bottoms) to control how narrow or wide the light beam is.

November 16, 2016

My Burst Mode Preference

I’m apologetically a fan of shooting in continuous (burst) mode. For me, a typical photographic moment of a human or animal suggest might consist of:

* A single frame of a moment the instant I decide I want to capture it. It’s usually poorly framed, uninteresting shot from a photography perspective as it’s literally more instinct than thought at this moment. The goal of this frame is to have a record of the moment in case it passes before I have a chance to “get it right”. It’s the I-don’t-want-to-forget-this-spontaneous moment photo.
* A couple frames of the same moment where I’m in the process of moving and re-framing to get a more interesting photo. Each frame is usually progressively better, but there’s always a risk of camera shake ruining the shot since I’m usually moving and shooting at the same time.
* A couple frames when I’ve re-framed the photo as I want it to guard against blinks, shifting gazing or any other quick momentary issues that might otherwise ruin a photo.

The usual result is usually around 4-5 frames. I maintain that anyone who insists that multiple frames should not be necessary does not shoot very young kids often.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some portrait orientation photos of the kids. My mother-in-law gave me a lovely photo collage frame last Christmas and I it’s beyond time to fill it. I’ve placed a step stool on the floor to keep the girls somewhat contained, but they only stay put for a moment. It’s a game: sit, smile, get up, giggle at Mommy’s reaction, run away, come back and repeat. Fine by me, games make for better expressions.

Here’s frames #1, #2 and #4 from a four frame block of Alexis. Frame #3 is nearly identical to #2, but contains motion blur not noticeable in the thumbnail.

alexisburst

Frame #1 is my least favorite. Her gaze is too high. #2 is the shot I was going for. Frame #4 with that smirk is a keeper from a mom perspective, but not the type of photo I was after for the collage. She’s also leaning forward slightly in #4 because she’s about to spring up from the stool and run off. (That’s probably the origin of the slightly blur to #3). Even in this relatively paused moment there’s still a lot of variation.

The initial shutter lag of my camera is 0.25 seconds, but drops to 0.11 for successive photos in contiguous mode. That’s not including the lag tag for my eyes to communicate what they’re seeing to my brain, and my brain to send the single for my finger to push the button. That may sound pedantic, but the human response time to visual stimuli is about a .25 second. All total, there’s a half second delay from identifying the “perfect moment” and having the shutter react. If I shot a single frame, I’d have just as high a probability of capturing frame #3 as #2.

Since I’m doing formal photos I don’t need to worry about capturing the spontaneous moment, but I still have that first, not quite framed right photo. Had it been the one with the best expression, I would have re-cropped it and kept it for my wall.

I think most of the critics of burst mode are favoring process over results. For a lot of photographers, the idea of shooting in continuous or boost mode is synonymous with “spray and pray”. Spray and pray refers to shooting first and frequently (spraying) without thought in the hopes of getting lucky (praying). Critics of spray and pray point out that it can be a crutch and does have a penalty associated with it. Each extra shutter action does create ware and tare on your camera (although the vast majority of us will never shoot enough for the extra ware and tare to matter.) Each file does take up additional space on your hard drive (if you’re like me and never delete anything ever that’s a significant issue). Finally, it costs you more time to go through each frame to find the best one. I’m guilty of this one too.

For us momtographers it’s not always about learning, or honing your skills. Sometimes you just want to have that beautiful photo for the wall, process be damned.

January 1, 2015

Newborn Photos by the Tree

Happy New Year! Are you tired of Christmas yet? I’m sure not (although this is probably my last Christmas related posted until next December.) One thing I can’t get enough of is photographing Christmas Trees.

There are two ways of doing tree photos: shallow focus (wide aperture, short exposure) and deep focus (narrow aperture, long exposure). Personally I like the wide aperture when shooting up close. It makes our artificial tree look less artificial, and means I don’t need to use a tripod. When shooting from a distance, however, I just love the way the narrow aperture gives a nice star effect to the tree lights.

treelights
Aperture and Christmas Tree Lights

I love Christmas, and I love newborns, so naturally I wanted some newborn Christmas photos by the tree.

christmasnewborn
So Dreamy
F/16, 15 second exposure, 50mm prime lens, ISO-125

The setup was really simple. I used a pillow on top of one of our storage boxes to raise Alexis high enough that the Christmas tree would fill the entire background. Under the blanket is a water proof sheet, and under that a heating pad. I used Nick Kelsh’s tip of white Christmas tree lights (sans pizza box) to cast a nice soft glow on Alexis. I wanted the Christmas light star effect, so I needed a narrow aperture and long exposure. That meant turning off most of the other lights in our living room, and cranking the ISO way down.

christmastreesetup
The pull back. Ignore the scattered toys, my home is in perpetual mess state these days.

A long exposure requires a (mostly) still baby. Breathing is obviously okay. No babies should be harmed in the making of this photo! Once I put Alexis down I gave her a good 15 minutes to get into a nice deep sleep. Don’t forget your safety spotter! Even newborns will sometimes roll, especially if the surface their on is uneven.

Once she was asleep I needed to act quick. From start to finish I only had 28 minutes before Alexis was stirring too much for me to continue. In order to ensure I’d end up with some usable frames I made only one adjustment between frames. Between one frame I might straighten out the blanket under Alexis’ head. Before another I might move her hand away from blocking her mouth. That way there’s less risk of her waking enough to stir, and also I’m guaranteed to have some photos to fall back on in the event that she does wake up.

For comparison, here is one of the first photos I took of Alexis and the tree (barely a week old!) with wide aperture. She’s not asleep. One of the nice things about fast shutter speeds, you can catch those eyes closed, fleeting smiles moments!

christmasnewborn2
f/2, 1/50 sec, ISO-1000
(not using Nick Kelsh’s tree light trick)

My favorite photos are always from Christmas time.

February 20, 2014

A Natural Spot Light

After my last post on using a spot light to create high contrast, I kept thinking back to my accomplishing the same shot. Specifically, could I use a natural light source? How much of a difference does the F-Stop make?

lilysunlight
Effectively the same setup as before, but using the sun coming in throw a window as a spotlight.

Trying to do this with natural light increased the difficulty factor dramatically. With the desk lamp I had totally flexibility with the position of the light source and the camera. I could move it further back and have a wider beam, or closer for a more intense narrow beam. While I could in theory pose the cat, she tends to have a mind of her own. With the natural light source, I effectively had two fixed objects. I couldn’t position my camera well. End result, is a poorly lit eye. Maybe I can say I was going for moody feel?

But it works. I can call this experiment a success. The window helped focus the light into a narrower enough beam that the forground was lit and the background was not. The white walls behind the cat are nearly black in the picture.

I definitely prefer my previous photo. With more practice I may be able to better utilize the window light, and come up with a better photo. Truth be told, I’m not sure the additional practice would be worth it. This is one example where natural light isn’t always preferential to artificial light.

If you want to try this type of photo, and you don’t want to purchase a softbox, I recommend a directional lamp with a really bright, natural light bulb. This is the one I used. Don’t let the sales price fool you, I’m pretty sure it’s always $20. If you’re shooting anything larger than a cat, you probably need something more substantiation.

February 13, 2014

In the Spotlight

figurinespotlight

Today there was a discussion on dramatic lighting in one of the photography forums I lurk, specifically having your subject fully or patially illuminated and the background dark. At first I was all easy peasy, been there, done that. Dark background, large aperture, single light source, right? Nope. Turns out there’s a completely different way to get the same effect!

Of course, I simply had to give it a try. As soon as Nicki was in bed I grabbed my camera.

The goal is to create a large differential of light on the subject vs the background. This doesn’t mean it needs to be dark out. In fact, it’s easier to focus on the subject if there’s ambient light. (I have a faulty lens that has difficulty focusing, so this is an important discovery for me.) Usually one uses softlight boxes to illuminate the subject and create that differential between subject and background. Light boxes are more focused light than what I used – sun streaming in from a window. I don’t have soft lights, but I do have a good craft light with a very bright, natural color light bulb.

spotlightdiagram
Spotlight diagram. No need to worry what’s in the background, as long as your light source is focused away from the background. The above photo? Nicki’s red train is in the background.

The first thing I noticed was the metering light could not be trusted. This is not one type of photo were auto is your friend! I had to change the settings to shoot much darker than the camera wanted. You also want to set your F-stop fairly high, for nice crisp edges.

Lily was fascinated by what I was doing. She kept rubbing up against the lamp, and sniffing at the bulb, so I decided to try and photograph her next. Alas, that’s where I started to struggle. The craft light is meant to be a desk light. It generates a narrow beam of light than a softlight box would, which means I had a small area to work with. Little movements from Lily generally meant most of the light wouldn’t fall on her. Inanimate objects are usually much more cooperative.

lilyspotlight
71 frames, maybe 5 good ones. Not ready for prime time

If you want to try this type of photo, and you don’t want to purchase a softbox, I recommend a directional lamp with a really bright, natural light bulb. This is the one I used. Don’t let the sales price fool you, I’m pretty sure it’s always $20. If you’re shooting anything larger than a cat, you probably need something more substantiation.

I think I prefer this technique to the one I used in the past. I’d like to try it on Nicki one day, but I will need to figure out a better lighting situation first.

November 17, 2013

Finding the Light

It has been two weeks since I last picked up my camera to take a photo of Nicki. Two weeks! Before the move I was managing to take photos at least four or five days a week. They were usually nothing special (bath time, playing with toys) but at least I was taking them. I don’t even know where the good light is in our apartment. I decided to rectify that this weekend and have another go at the pearl photos.

pearls take two
Love those lashes!

Back at our old place the window was at the foot of the crib. Her room faced West, so by about four o’clock or so (depending on the season) the light would just stream into the nursery. I’d use the blinds as a poor man’s defuser, and got the kind of photos you saw previously. If I stood by the window there was very little shadow, standing by the side of the crib and I would get the really nice profiles. It was usually one of my go to spots for Nicki photos.

Since her new room faces west-ish, it was the first place I thought of.

I figured the afternoon would be the best time to shoot in our new place as well. Her room gets hot in the afternoon, hot from heat generated by the sunlight. Alas the sun, window, and crib don’t line up as nicely here. The blinds here don’t work as well as a defuser. They are the vertical kind where you have much less control over how much light is coming in between each blind. Strips of light are always peeping through at least one slat, which don’t look very nice in photos. I had to wait until the light was no longer directly on the crib which only gave me a twenty minute window before the sun slipped behind the edge of the building and the room was too dark. Another (minor) issue was the position of the crib. It was against the back wall rather than right up against the window. In that position the railing blocks the light, especially when using a backdrop. In the above photo the light source is actually to her left. Most of the light blocked by the crib, and her face is illuminated from the right by the light bouncing off the wall. It’s really pretty, but I had to shoot at a higher ISO and a wider aperture that I was hopping for.

This morning I was in Nicki’s room fixing the blinds and noticed that her room was actually very bright in the early morning hours. That’s when it dawned on me that her room was actually hot during her nap time (1 pm) not late afternoon. It takes time for the room to warm up, which means the room has been bright for a while. At our old place her room didn’t start warming up until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Morning is the way to go! Low ISO, tight aperture and I can still avoid motion blur.

Next time I’ll know better!

Trying to be artsy
After being over zealous with the saturation, brightness and contrast.

The one area where we’re really lacking is the uncluttered wall by a mirror and light source like I used for my bump shot maternity photos. That was also the same place I took the avatar photo of myself with my camera. I will miss that spot.

Warning, look away if you have a soft spot for pastries.

smashcake
Not the messiest cake smasher I’ve ever seen, but she get’s the job done! Click for a larger image

Normally I like to have at least two or three “sessions” for each “shoot”. (Typically I break the sessions out over different days/weeks to deal with baby sized patience levels. Hers and mine.) It can take me that long to get the photo I want. While I’m sure Nicki would love to destroy multiple smash cakes, there’s a limit to how much sugar I am willing to let her ingest. I am only allowing myself one session for this.

I didn’t want to risk my white satin backdrop, as I still need it to complete her baby book, so my first stop was to the craft store to get a background fabric. I know, I know – “real” backdrops are not draped fabrics, but I some fabrics work well enough for a tiny fraction of the cost. I took the diaper cover I was planning on using to the store to pick out a fabric that would go with it that would also be somewhat resilient to having cake smeared all over it. I ended up with a dark brown pleather for $10.78 that I’m planning on reusing.

I knew I was going to use my 35mm prime lens (the 50mm crop would be too tight, and the only other option would have been my kit lens). But what settings should I use? I tend to err on too wide an aperture, and too slow a shutter speed, due to poor lighting in my house. In order to get these settings correct from the start I started playing around. I took a few photos during bath time this past week and learned I needed a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second to freeze a splash. (I normally try to get away with 1/125.) I also tested the shooting space with a few props and learned I needed a f-stop of about f/2.8 to make sure she’d be completely in focus. This left me needing an ISO of at least 400, and I still had a slight under exposure according to my camera’s metering light. The test image, however, looked completely washed out in the “correct” exposure, so I figured I’d go with the under exposure. My guess is the metering light was tricked by the dark background into thinking the image was too dark overall.

admiringthecake
At first she just picked off the sprinkles and poked the frosting. Too cute.

smashsmile
I think I like this!

hand
Messy! She loved squishing the cake between her fingers

destroy
Nicki realized she could rake her hand across the cake and destroy it that way. Grand fun.

aftermath
The aftermath

It ended up being more cake destruction than cake eating. I’ve seem much messier faces after spaghetti! But she had a ball with it, and that’s the important thing! At one point I decided to step down my shutter speed to 1/250 seconds. Just one step to try and let in a little more light. Big mistake. She started waving with her hand covered in frosted cake goo and it went everywhere. Of course 1/250 was just slightly too slow and I have motion blur. Live and learn, live and learn.

Set up for the curious:
setup

Materials Cost:
$10.78 – Pleather Backdrop (JoAnn’s)
$9.99 – Clear cake presentation dish (Micheals)
$7.03 – 6″ Cake Pan (Amazon)
$15.36 – Diaper Cover (Amazon, and actually purchased for another photo idea I haven’t gotten around to yet)
—-
Total Cost – $43.16 before tax.

I thought I’d start keeping track of how much these little photography projects (and projects in general) cost. I am a numbers person, after all.

Last week I posted some things I learned going off auto mode on my camera. But what if you’re not neck deep in the camera-setting-obsessed build-a-set-at-home momtographer-crazy-pool like me? Here’s my number one go to trick for taking photos of Nicki that dosen’t involve any camera knowledge. In fact, to emphasize that you don’t need expensive camera equipment or software, all photos in this post were taken with my cell phone and completely unedited. Not even to adjust the brightness.

Without further ado…

flightwindow

Cute, right? She’s looking out the airplane window and smiling. It’s safe to assume I’m not climbing over another passenger to take this photo. (I’m a crazy mom-tographer, not an obnoxious one.) I’m sitting in the same row as Nicki who is safely strapped into the window seat. That means Nicki is in-between the window and myself. If she were truly looking out the window, we’d be seeing more of the side/back of her head.

In order to capture this photo I’m using the same simple trick behind the holding the pyramids illusion. The human eye is really good at judging relative distances in 3-d. That’s why someone far away looks far away, and not just small. A 2-d projection of a 3-d object (e.g. a photograph) can trick our minds’ eye into interpreting the image differently. In this pyramid photo it looks like the man is looking at the pyramid in his hand. Of course, the pyramid is just far back, and the man in the photo is looking off camera at nothing at all. Since Nicki is a baby I can’t just tell her where to look. That’s where Domingo comes in.

In my airplane photo I’m actually in the aisle seat. Domingo is in the middle seat, leaning in front of Nicki to entice a smile. She is looking at Domingo and smiling.

pullback
A pullback. Ignore the quality of this photo. I wouldn’t share it, except that it shows how we made the top one work.

The window is about four inches above her head. I’ve rotated the camera about 30 degrees to the left so the window appears level with Nicki’s face and positioned it so Domingo is off frame. Voila, the illusion of looking out the window.

cameraaxis
There are five possible axis to move your camera: up/down, left/right, toward-subject/away-from-subject, rotate and tilt.

Here she is with great grandma. If Nicki were truly looking at Grandma, we’d just be seeing much more of the underside of her chin. She’s looking at Domingo, standing off frame and making faces at her.

greatgrandma

In this one she looks like she’s in the Christmas spirit, even though she’s clearly not looking at anything in particular.

sittingbytree
I posted an edited version of this one a few ago.

For this photo I’m lying on my stomach, holding the camera about eye level (maybe Nicki’s shoulder) and have tilted the top of the camera ever so slightly toward Nicki so that the tree and presents are in a better position relative to her in the photo.

This trick doesn’t just work for babies! Back in my maternity photography days, I recommended looking six inches in front of the bump for a more flattering angle.

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

We decided to skip Halloween costumes this year. Nicki is too young to understand, and, since we weren’t planning on going out, a custom didn’t make sense for us. We did have her skeleton sleep and play, so when I started feeling the momma guilt of skipping her first holiday, we thought we’d do a Holiday photo shoot and send out cards to family.

Nicki was only a little over three months for this photo. She’s obviously not sitting on her own yet, but can sit while propped up. To create the card I envisioned I needed to get a little creative.

For this photo I started by folding two towels and placing them on the floor for padding. We have hard wood floors, and Nicki will kick when excited. I didn’t want her to hurt herself by accident. Next I got the plush backrest pillow and put it on the towels. I had bought it umpteen years ago when I was off to college, but never really used it. Since I can’t ever throw anything away, I still had it. I placed the backrest on top of the towels so I would have a cushy spot to prop Nicki up.


The setup

I draped a black backdrop over my setup and with a few props and I was good to go. I adjusted my camera settings so my metering light showed a bit dark and upped the contrast in post processing for a spooky effect.

We got a couple good ones, it was hard to pick a favorite. Ultimately I decided to go with the smile, even though a few of these invoke a more halloweenish feeling. Grandmas adore the smiling babe.

Nicki kept scooting forward in what Domingo called the ‘limp skeleton’ pose. Gotta love her facial expression. I predict she’s going to be quite the little ham!


Another good limp skeleton.


Here’s one were she’s holding a pumpkin between her two hands.


A good one of her ‘sitting.’

July 27, 2012

DIY Newborn Photography

There’s truth in what they say, that the first two weeks are a bit of a blur. I hadn’t made up my mind about newborn photography – whether I would do it myself or higher a professional – but the next thing I knew Nicki was two and a half weeks old and we hadn’t even looked at photographers, let alone booked one! Playing to my fears that we had waited to long, the internet said three weeks is ‘old man age’ for newborns. Newborn photos are easiest for babies 8 to 10 day and younger, when they are the most sleepy. I panicked. Had we missed our opportunity?

I was a bit intimidated. I liked the maternity photos I took, but that was over a period of 40 weeks. I had plenty of time to learn what works. Normally I take hundreds of photos to get a few I really like. Newborns are not exactly known for their patience. I was worried I had waited too long and Nicki was no longer in her sleepy newborn phase. I knew I’d have only a brief window to try.

DIY newborn photography turned out to be not as difficult as I thought. Being behind the camera rather than in front of it, like for DIY Maternity Photography makes a world of difference. Still, I see areas I can improve.

I started with the advice I had read on the internet:
(1) Turn off the A/C and up the heat. Warm babies are happy babies, but naked babies need more heat to be warm! We let the temperature rise to 76 degrees in the house.
(2) Feed baby. Babies with full tummies of warm milk tend to be sleepy, and sleepy babies are more manageable. I stripped Nicki down to her diaper to feed her. I then removed her diaper, wrapped her up in a towel (just in case!) and rocked her to sleep.

I used the love seat for my photo setup. The seat offered me a variety of angles to choose from. I could crotch down to baby’s level or stand up if I wanted to take any looking down at her, shoot with her directly in front of me, or angle to the side. I turned the love seat around so it faced the window and the good light. I also removed the back cushions so the backdrop fabric would drap nicely. The seat cushions were fairly firm, and good for resting baby on. I did try and angle the cushions slightly for a better view of baby by placing a rolled up towel under them the back corner of the cushions. I then put a plastic cover over the couch (we had one pee incident during filming!) and a nice white linen over top to act as the backdrop. Once setup, I was ready to feed and prep the baby.

Nicki still cooperated with me, and I was able to get a sleepy ‘newborn’ photo. Belly full of warm milk, some rocking and she was asleep and pliable (though maybe not as flexible as in her younger weeks. I kid, I kid.)

awake

sleeping2

Nicki did cry the first couple of times I put her on the couch. Since we use the Rock N’ Play she wasn’t used to lying flat on her back (or on her tummy!). But after a few minutes, she calmed down and decided she liked the position. It also helped that we picked early morning, when she’s usually her happiest go-lucky self. Another great aspect of the DIY approach, you can shoot multiple times or multiple days. If baby is fussy and not cooperating one day it’s no problem; just try again tomorrow. The photos I shared were over a couple different iterations. I snap as many photos as I can before she gets fussy and look at them afterwards when she’s down for her nap.

One word of caution: have a spotter/baby calmer. I had my mom help who is a bit of a baby whisperer. She made sure Nicki stayed far from the edge of the couch cushion, so I didn’t have to worry about accidents. She also talked to the baby while I snapped away to help keep baby’s interest and direct baby’s attention. It also made for this hilarious outtake.


Outtake 1: My mom’s hand as she pats the fussy baby.

And, of course, sometimes you strike gold by accident.


Outtake 2: I dub this one “You wish you were as cool as I am”

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