I am so excited to start sharing some practical photography tips with you! I will be going behind the scenes with my shoots and discussing specific parts of my process with you every week.
I hope that this will be valuable to you and help you tighten your workflow, learn how to shoot more consistently, and learn more about taking incredible photographs that you are proud of. I would love to hear your feedback!
Right now, I'd like to talk about making photos that require little editing. I would rather be out and shooting any day over sitting in front of my computer and culling and toning. Some photographers love sitting down and tweaking photos to perfection. And hey, more power to those photographers. I will be honest though, I love being behind the camera more than anything. That is the part of photography I love the most.
So let's get into it. How do I create a ratio where I am shooting more and editing less? Here is what I do, illustrated through some before and after photos with my killer sister Moriah.
The most important component in making a photo that you will have to edit minimally is lighting. So many people look at a photograph and say, "how did you edit that?"
The answer is that I found nice light.
Lighting is everything.
Photography means painting with light. If you take a poorly lit photo, you can spend hours trying to fix it in post production and still be completely unsatisfied.
When we set out about 2 hours before sunset, the sky was clear and the sun was getting low in the sky. This creates beautiful directional light. Low sun = directional light = even light on the face = no raccoon eyes = catch light in the eyes = all around goodness. But, as we began to shoot, clouds rolled in and it became a medium to bright overcast lighting setup.
When overcast, you have more flexibility with where you can shoot, but you lose the drama of the directional light. The sky becomes a big soft box, giving you softer light as seen in this photo. There is a common misconception that you can get real lazy on overcast days when it comes to observing light, but you can still create poorly lit images if you are not intentional. Here is what I did on an overcast day:
We went to the edge of some woods, letting the background fall away behind Moriah. I placed her in front of the tree line so she was the brightest part of the photo. She was also standing on a white sidewalk, which helped bounce light back into her face.
TIP: Anything white or bright can be a natural reflector for you if you are in need of more light. You can also bring your own reflector.
I always look for catch light in the eyes of my subject. Catch light is a specular highlight within someone's eye. You can see the catch light in the top of Moriah's eyes. Without catch light, you have dead eyes...where the pupils are black and there is no life in your subject's eyes. Eyes are the first thing people look at with portrait photography. The lighting in your subject's eyes can make or break your photo.
TIP: When figuring out how to light your subject, look in their eyes and see if there are catch lights.
Because Moriah was evenly lit and is the brightest part of the photograph from how I placed her, I had minimal editing to do. Essentially, I added contrast using curves in Photoshop, added warmth to the photo, took out a bit of a tree in the background to add simplicity, and created a very subtle vignette around her to bring her out a little more. I also did very minimal retouching on her face. This is only a minute or two of editing. What made the editing so minimal? Simply put, Nice light.
Here is another example of placing Moriah on the edge of the tree line. She becomes the brightest part of the photo. You can see on the right side how the light is hitting the tree beside her. This illustrates how the light falls off as the woods become thicker. Moriah is on the same plane as the tree on the right, making them both the brightest of the photo. (Minus the funky thing in the top part of the frame).
NOTE: I could have darkened the tree on the right a bit to draw more attention to her.
The fuzziness of the photo and the blurry highlight above her was created through shooting through some material I found in my purse to make it more interesting. We can talk about getting funky with random objects in a later post :)
More importantly: Because I kept Moriah on the edge of the tree line to make her brighter than the background, I did not need to brighten her in post production. There was no dodging and burning that happened in post. I changed the photo to grayscale, created contrast with curves in Adobe Camera Raw, and took out a couple of sticks and bright spots on the ground to bring more attention to her. That's it. There is no magic with my black and white editing. It's very basic. What makes the photo work is the lighting. It's all about lighting.
These two photos are examples of how photographing your subject from above or having them look up during an overcast day creates nice, even light. Because the sky becomes a huge soft box as light is spread evenly through the clouds, when your subject looks up or you photograph your subject from above, it is evenly and softly lit.
Notice the highlights on the top of Moriah's hair in the first photo and how her forehead is the lightest part of her face because it is faced directly up toward the soft box of the sky. She becomes darker as you move down her face. If you are looking for a way to create more light on someone's face during an overcast day, have them tilt their head toward the sky. BAM.
Last example! Two things with this photo.
1. The sun was going down at this point, so we were losing a lot of light because it was an overcast day. I found a spot with a lot of bright walls and white sidewalks, which would help bounce light back to Moriah. I will talk about lighting with directional, hard light in a future post and how to find the best light.
2. If you noticed, with almost all of my photos, I am framing my photos virtually exactly how I want them. The more intentional you are about how you frame and compose your photo = less cropping = less editing = being able to keep more information in your photo.
TIP: When composing your image and looking through the viewfinder, look at all four sides of your image. Pay attention to your edges. This will help you get better at composing.
Do not just look at the subject. I had to adjust the photo slightly here to straighten my lines, but if I had shot this any more crooked, I would have had to have used the clone stamp tool or content aware tool in photoshop to create more sidewalk on the bottom of the frame as I adjusted it so that I would not crop off her feet. Guess what that means? More time editing!!
The more intentional you are about framing your photos how you want them in camera, the less time you will have to edit in post.
1. Lighting is the most important component to decreasing your post production.
2. Determine what kind of light you are facing before beginning your shoot. This will determine how and where you photograph.
3. Look for catch lights in your subject's eyes. Don't give them dead eyes.
4. The sky is a giant soft box during overcast days. Take advantage of that and tilt your subject's face to it.
5. Be intentional about your framing. I will discuss composition in more detail in later posts, but know that being sloppy when composing means more time in front of the computer.
6. It is ALL about lighting. Always. Just is. Photography is creating art with light. It is the most valuable tool you have as a photographer.
Make it your focus to observe the light as you photograph. It is amazing how much better you will become as a photographer once you dig deep into how the light around you is interacting with your scene and subject.
I hope this inspires you and helps you! Cheers to a wonderful week of creating beautiful, well lit images that are stunning right inside your camera.
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