End of Summer Photo Lesson: Shooting in Open Shade

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When the sun is really harsh, you can still get wonderful portraits by placing your subjects just inside a shady area. This might be just under an umbrella (like my example of these gorgeous siblings), inside a garage door, inside your house door, under the slide at the park, under the light of the first tree, etc. The key is to not position your subject too deep into the shade. You want all of the light that is just behind you to spill softly onto your subjects. This will give even lighting across the face(s) as well as great light in the eyes. (65mm -cropped; F/5.6; ISO 400).

BONUS Lesson: This second photo was also taken in the open shade of a small umbrella on a very bright beach. Here you can actually see just how close they are positioned to the edge of the shade. But I am throwing this in to illustrate leading lines. Your eye naturally goes to the boy first and follows down the line to the sitting girl, but notice how the lines of the table push your eye right back up again. This is a great way to keep your viewer engaged within the image.(55mm; F/5.6; ISO 400)_DSC4035_RT

Window Light: Use it to take close-up photos, too!

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It’s important to capture possessions that are important to you and your family as it will be fun to look back on those photos years from now when the item is either gone or no longer shiny and new. But without a true 1:1 macro lens and macro lighting, you may feel you cannot get great shots of smaller objects like we see in home decor magazines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any zoom that gives you a maximum magnification of 1:4 or better can yield great close-up shots (consult your owner’s manual to see this specification for your lens, or check out the specs of any lens you are thinking about purchasing). And small objects can be photographed beautifully in natural light. Window light is my favorite light for people, but also for things. The harshness of mid-day light is diffused and makes for excellent quality light for a variety of subjects. Take this cute little beaded purse- a favorite possession of its young owner. Sitting at corner table in a small cafe at lunchtime, I couldn’t help but notice how the light from the large window made the sequins sparkle. So from my booth seat, I zoomed in tight enough to catch the detail (and allowed enough of a glimpse of the non-working cell phone that resides inside this purse these days to complete the story!). The shallow depth of field, created due to my close proximity to the subject, keeps the focus on the purse details. (55mm; F/9; ISO 400)

Window Light Portraits

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A few things to keep in mind when taking a portrait of a person or pet by window light:

ONE: Natural window light usually means wide open apertures and slower shutter speeds, so consider boosting your ISO if necessary, be sure your anti-shake mode is on, or use a tripod to prevent camera shake.

TWO: The closer you are to a window, the more dramatic the shadow on the opposite side of the face will be. Positioning your subject further from a window means softer, more even light.

THREE: You can actually stand in front of the window and position your subject facing the window and it won’t cast a shadow! This results in very flat lighting on the face. Four, shoot by a window even if it is overcast or there are soft sheer curtains. The light will be beautiful.

Use Your Flash for Outdoor Photos

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We all have heard the rule that early morning and late afternoon are the magical times for talking photos. But let’s face it. At noon, we’re at the pool or the beach. Noon is when the action is happening and when we are more likely to be taking photos. So in order to avoid the raccoon eyes that come with overhead noon time light, just turn on your flash! The small burst of light will fill in shadows and make your subject’s eyes pop out just like it did for my subject. Look at the shot on the left with no flash. Harsh shadows fill in the eye sockets and the shadow is strong across her shoulder and neck. For the shot on the right, I just popped up my built-in flash and it makes a world of difference. To avoide over-exposing your subject, one trick is to dial in a small aperture like F/16 or F/22. For some people, images that use fill flash may appear to be too artificial. If you find the flash puts out too much light, there is a setting on most DSLR cameras whereby you can “compensate” the flash in a plus (+) or minus (-) direction. Dial in a -1 or -2 flash compensation and the flash will emit less light to fill in shadows more subtly. (For that tip, however, you will have to break out your camera manual to find the setting). So next time you’re at the pool or beach this summer, and you cannot get your subject under an umbrella, or tree or some other type of open shade during those harsh hours between 11am and 3pm, then try popping up your flash! (25mm; F/16; ISO200)

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Camera

NYC_STORE_1That’s of course one of the tricks to getting a good photo. Just keep taking pictures! But even when your doing some of the most mundane things, you might just find some perfect light and a child with a great attitude for the day! Here are two shots from our recent overnight in NYC. We went window shopping down in SOHO and while in a furniture store, she sat down while we browsed. When I checked on her, I noticed that the window light streaming in from the high broad windows was beautiful. Her eyes just sparkled when she looked up at me. Of course, I said, oh, you look so pretty, stay right there! The warm tones in the store made it even more beautiful and she cooperated for two or three shots. (32mm; F/5; ISO 400).

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At the next store, there were floor to ceiling windows all around the 2nd floor store. And she picked up a nice prop- a bouquet of artificial sunflowers – and promptly sat on the floor in front of the window. Because I was so close to her, not more than five feet, and used a focal length slightly more than normal (65mm), the flowers are out of focus. (65m; F/5; ISO 400). For both shots, I had my camera in aperture priority mode so that I could always pick the most wide open aperture I could get given the lighting. This way I ensured the background would be a little softer to make her pop out. And I always focus on the eyes (or the eye that is closest to the camera).

Guest Post at Elementally Speaking

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My friend CrisDee over at Elementally Speaking asked if I would guest post for her site where she shares with you ideas for creating, capturing and keeping family memories.(see the post below, or at http://elementallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/new-feature-photo-tips-from-stacie-errera/Thanks Cris!)

When it comes to our children’s stage performances, it is very difficult to get great shots unless you have total access during a rehearsal. The mistake most people make is to take photos from their seat in the auto mode.  If you do this, the flash will go off and you’ll get a dark stage and very well lit heads of the people in front of you.  So sit back and enjoy you child’s live performance with your eyes rather than through your camera’s viewfinder (I know, any of us shutterbugs find this an almost impossible suggestion!).Instead, concentrate on getting a nice shot of your child in costume by venturing back stage during rehearsals or prior to the performance.  I checked on my daughter the day before her recital and saw her costume for the first time.  I was thrilled when I saw the light streaming in from the windows behind the back stage curtains.  I asked her to sit down for a moment with the side of her face parallel to the windows to get nice side lighting on her face.  I then crouched down just a little so that I could see her ballerina skirt spread all around her and her big happy smile.  This point of view also let me include some of the wood floor that her pretty feet danced on the next day and one that really gives the viewer the true picture of what was happening when I took the photo.  Find a place in the environment that has some windows and position your actor or dancer so that the light brings out the detail in the costume and a highlight in your child’s eyes.  Don’t get too close to the window as the light will be too harsh.  Instead, move a few feet or more away from the window for an even light.  I always try to not use the flash and opt for natural light whenever possible.

Communion Portrait

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I love window light. In the Italian restaurant where we celebrated this boy’s first holy communion, a bank of windows with translucent shades was near the kids table. I asked him to take a minute and stand near the windows, using the wall treatments as a colorful and classic background that leads your eyes right to the subject’s face. I set the camera to aperture priority and dialed in the widest aperture opening I could (F/4.2). The ISO was set at 400. And since the light was low, I turned on the anti-stabilizer on the lens and was able to get a sharp image at 1/30th of a second (gotta love that VC!). The natural light really lets you see the details in his dapper suit and his beautiful rose corsage. And his dark eyes sparkle from the window light. It took more than a few shots to get a natural smile, and I did it by asking him to close his eyes real tight and then open them. He giggled after making a goofy face and I was able to catch a pretty natural smile.

Black & White Beauty

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I was waiting to catch my limo to take me away from my daughter for 5 days. And I needed an updated photo of her to show off to my colleagues and to look at while the plane took off (since having her I fear take-off and landing terribly). So I took five minutes to sit her on the ledge of our bay window and snapped for as long as she would let me. I made a quick bw print to take with me. But while surfing ThePioneerWoman.com website, I found her photoshop actions and decided to try to make a new black and white today that would really bring out her eyes. I used Black and White Beauty and Boost. I really loved how the light from the window sculpted her face: since she was so close to the window, the side farther away from the window is a little in shadow, which gives the portrait dimension. If she was further away from the window, her face would have a more even tone from left to right. I used a medium telephoto setting combined with an F5.6 in aperture priority mode. That was enough to blur out the patio furniture that was visible outside the window.

Gotta Love A Big Window

Love this photo of my niece. She’s so sweet and I just want to kiss that face. Seated in a restaurant on an overcast day, soft light poured in the large window to the right. As she conversed with her mom and dad, I shot at a wide F/3.5 aperture setting with the vibration compensation turned on to accommodate the slow 1/25th sec shutter speed. Only when her face was turned slightly towards the window did I get that twinkle in her eyes. Tip: Look for north facing window and position your subject’s cheek toward the window. You’ll get nice side lighting that gives dimension to the face and highlights in the eyes.