Photographing reflective surfaces and objects is usually quite challenging, and can easily turn the work of the photographer into a frustrating task.
Reflections are a hard to tame beast, but it gets easier to control if you know the rules. So, in this article I will show you how to create a high impact image with controlled reflections, like the one below, with a really simple, but highly effective, technique and using equipment you most certainly already own.
A reflective surface acts like a mirror reflecting light, so if the light source of your image comes from the same direction as the camera, it causes specular highlights resulting in blown out spots without texture, and an overall poor looking image like the following one photographed with the flash mounted on camera.
It all comes down to the basic principles of light and the way it behaves, which is in fact very predictable. The law of reflection explains this phenomenon. If you project a ray of light on a flat reflective surface like a mirror, then the angle of incidence equals de angle of reflection, like the following diagram illustrates:
So, physics apart, what this really means is that if you are trying to photograph a reflective surface you should never light it from the same angle as the camera, otherwise you will only get light bouncing straight back at you (depending on the angle of the object).
The trick here is to use a big light source, and position it in the same opposite angle of your camera, in relation to the photographed object (behind it).
You can do this with a studio flash head and a big softbox, but there is a much simpler and cheaper way of doing it. You just need some white cardboard, a flash, and trigger system to fire it off-camera.
Here is how you can use this lighting setup:
The light from the flash bounced off the cardboard is a much bigger light source, allowing you to control the reflections on your image, creating gradients that shape the object, and avoiding specular highlights. Notice it also creates texture on the rock background.
This simple technique allows you to create a lot of different lighting effects in your image, depending how you position your flash, and angle the cardboard in relation to the photographed object, which also creates texture on the background stone and water drops.
Here are some examples of light variations on this imag,e with just some small adjustments to the cardboard positioning.
Knowing that light rays will always bounce from a reflective surface, at the same angle at that at which they strike it, makes it possible to determine the best positioning for the camera and the light source, taking into consideration the family of angles as you can see in the next diagram.
The light positioned within the family of angles will produce a direct reflection and the light outside of the family of angles will not light a mirror-like subject at all, from the camera’s point of view.
Even though the reflections on these images are not direct, but rather diffused reflections (which makes difficult to calculate the light angle as it is being bounced and dispersed in different directions) the family of angles can give you a good estimate of how to position your light in relation to the camera angle, in order to control the reflections in your image.
All this technical information about light physics may seem overwhelming at first, but it will all make sense when you start playing around with it. So, give it at try, I’m sure you will get great images. Please share any questions and your images of reflective objects in the comments section below.
Post-processing can be a minefield. Beginners especially can feel overwhelmed when confronted by amazing software, that can do almost anything, like Photoshop for example. However, everyone starts from somewhere, and not everything is terribly confusing. I am personally a fan of simplicity, when it comes to technology. Let me share with you a few simple steps on how to get started batch processing using Adobe Bridge.
Editing in Bridge is super simple, and as easy as one – two – three. Open your file, edit your photo, save your file. I will walk you through it, and try to demystify the first step in post-processing, without touching Photoshop.
What is Adobe Bridge?
Bridge is part of Adobe’s Creative Suite, and is a media browsing application. It is an app that enables you to view your entire computer contents, manage and organize your digital files, and edit your photos without the need to import and file them in various catalogs elsewhere. For photographers specifically, Bridge simplifies the first step in the editing process, because within Bridge you can do the following easily, to name a few:
Rename, move, or copy multiple files at the press of a button
Organize your files using various filters so you can perform your desired function in batches
Watermark, copyright and manage metadata information
Adobe Camera Raw
To edit photographs in Bridge, you need to have Adobe Camera Raw, a powerful plug-in that allows you to edit and enhance any photo, including JPGS. RAW files however, can only be opened, and read, in Adobe Camera Raw.
I would suggest that you shoot in RAW. Here is a good article about RAW vs JPGS which explains the benefit of shooting in RAW format. I shoot in RAW, and always edit from that format in Bridge, as my starting point. If you photograph in RAW, make sure you have downloaded Adobe Camera Raw, preferably the latest version, onto your computer before you can edit the files in Bridge.
A first word
This tutorial is a very basic suggested process of editing in Bridge, meant to aid your understanding if you have never used Bridge before. I do not claim it is the better way of editing nor the perfect way; it is one option, among many others available. Bridge is my personal preference over Lightroom, and I choose to use as much or as few of the functions in Bridge as I see fit for every image, or batch of images, that I edit. I like Bridge because, together with Adobe Camera Raw, it is straight-forward, hassle-free, and offers a non-destructive way of editing.
Loading your images
Before starting the batch processing, you need to load your images to a new folder on your computer.
My suggestion would be to download your images from your memory card, directly onto your computer. In my opinion, this is the safest, and most direct way, to copy over images from your memory card to your computer, without having to go through various software that potentially could complicate the copying process. Keep it as simple as possible to try and eliminate any malfunctions or errors right at the start. Use an external USB card reader to load your images into your computer, if it doesn’t come with a built-in one.
Put your images in a new folder clearly labeled so you know exactly where to find them. As an added step, when I copy a new set of images from a memory card on to my computer, I also immediately copy the same set to various external hard drives and cloud storage for back-up and safe-keeping. Always copy from the same memory card so you keep the transfer direct, and minimize potential errors. For example, if you copy your memory card images to a folder called Set A, do not then copy the images from Set A into another external hard drive folder; do not create this unnecessary step. Paste the same set of images from the memory card, directly where you want them stored on an external hard drive or on the cloud.
Once your images are safely copied, open Bridge. You will need to be subscribed to Adobe CC to have access to this. Subscriptions are now very affordable, compared to previous years when you had to buy a license of the very expensive full Adobe Suite just to use one software.
You will see the contents of your computer on the left side navigation menu. Find your folder, click on it and your images will be displayed on the main window. RAW files will be displayed as CR2 or CRW files for Canon cameras, NEF files for Nikon cameras and DNG for some other cameras (each manufacturer has a proprietary raw file format).
Select your RAW files, and open them by clicking the Camera Raw plug-in icon with the images selected.
As a RAW file is an unprocessed image containing all the information the camera sensor sees. It can appear very flat, and darker than what you may have seen on your camera’s LCD screen, which displays a JPG preview of your image, and as such has already been processed by the camera for preview purposes.
An important note to consider when batch processing, is that it is most effective when used on images that are photographed using similar light and settings. The main thing to remember is that you are able to apply global edits in a few steps to multiple images, but the reality is that you may still have to tweak each image as appropriate before you save it.
There are two ways of applying edits in batches. Below I make reference to selecting all images using cmd/ctrl+a, and making your adjustments by applying them to the images simultaneously – that is one way. The second way is to synchronize edits. To do this, use one image with all the adjustments made, then select all other images and click the synchronize button to apply the same adjustments to the rest of them.
The idea behind batch editing is that you can apply a set of edits to multiple images, by only doing the adjustments once. To do this you can either select all the images you want to edit and make your adjustments while all the images are selected – or you can edit one image first, followed by selecting all the images (making sure the edited image is the one highlighted with the blue box around it) then synchronizing the edits across all the images. A new window opens up with a series of boxes so you can check the settings you want to synchronize across the batch. I tend to uncheck the crop and local adjustments as those settings usually need to be specifically applied to each individual image.
Here is a key point to bear in mind when synchronizing your settings across the batches: It is important to note that you only want to do this with global adjustments that you want applied to the entire batch, and do it at an early stage of editing. If you use the synchronize function at the end of your edits, when you may have made various local adjustments to each individual image, any synchronizing action done then will overwrite previous adjustments (depending on what you select in the Sync settings popup box).
Step 1: Correct Lens Distortion and Chromatic Aberration
On the left hand navigation filter, choose Lens. A dropdown menu of the lenses used appears. I correct distortion on all images photographed around the 50mm focal length and under. By clicking on the specific lens, you are filtering the set so that only images photographed with that lens are shown in the thumbnail window. Select all the images by clicking cmd/ctrl+a . With the images selected, click the camera lens icon to open the Camera Raw plug-in and window. Select the images again by clicking cmd/ctrl+a, and go to the Lens Correction tab on the right hand navigation panel. On the Profile tab click the box that enables lens correction and choose your camera and lens details from the drop down menus. If your lens isn’t in the list, alternatively you can do this manually using the sliders on the Manual tab. Click done and your changes will automatically be saved.
Often with extreme lens distortions coupled, with straightening adjustments, you will need to crop your images. Type c (keyboard shortcut) and the crop box at the top will be highlighted. Hold down the crop icon to bring up the crop ratios. By doing this, your image will be constrained to the ratio you have chosenwhen you crop. Don’t forget to click done to save your changes.
Do this for all the lenses for which you want the distortions corrected. If you are only editing a batch photographed using one lens profile, you do not need to click done just yet. You can keep making further edits before clicking done.
Next correct any Chromatic Aberration. I only do this step if I know I have taken images in bright light using a very wide aperture such as f/2 or wider. The filtering and batch editing method is the same as above. However, I do this for each image individually at 100% view as each image would have various amounts of chromatic aberration and varyious color fringing.
Step 2: Correct your White Balance
Once all the distortions on various lenses and focal lengths have been corrected, open your images again in the same way. Now you are ready to make batch edits.
Once in Camera Raw, select a set of images that have been photographed in the same, or similar light. With the images selected correct the White Balance using the eyedropper tool. You need to find a neutral area (gray, or white) to click the eyedropper tool on and aim to get the RGB numbers to read the same, as much as possible. That way you know you are getting the most neutral color in the image. You can also correct White Balance by eye if you are confident enough to differentiate color temperature, although this will be less accurate than going with the RGB values.
You will notice that the White Balance changes on all the images you selected just by setting it on one image. Images that have been photographed in different light, or at varying times, will register a different White Balance. So, batch editing an entire set of images photographed in various places in this way, will produce irregular color results.
Step 3: Correct your exposure and make local adjustments
You may want to click Auto first, to see what Camera Raw’s suggested edits are, then start making your adjustments from there. To batch process, it is important to select sets of images shot in the same setting and light to make the most of this editing function. Batch editing images that have settings in opposite extremes will very likely add to your editing time, as you will need to go back and correct all the other images, thereby doubling your editing process. This is just one of the benefits of shooting in Manual mode where you have full control of your camera settings, rather than the camera making the decisions for you. If you are considering switching to Manual mode, in case you are still shooting in any of the other modes, see: How to Learn Your Camera’s Light Meter and Master Manual Mode.
When making adjustments, it is important to keep an eye on the histogram, which is the coloured graph displayed on the upper right hand corner of Camera Raw. The histogram tells you if there is clipping occurring in the dark and light areas of your image. Clipping simply means that there is no detail left in that area, as the tonal values have fallen outside the minimum and maximum brightness boundaries, where detail can be represented in the digital image.
Type U and O together and the window will display any clipped bright areas in red. Type U and O together again to display clipped dark areas, and one more time to turn off the clipping warnings. You can then make adjustments by moving the sliders to eliminate the clipped areas. Remember to keep checking the histogram. You don’t want to clip either the blacks or the whites, you will see this on the histogram when the colours start climbing up on the left and right walls. Ideally you want the colours to be evenly distributed around the middle area until they are just touching the walls. Here is a link explaining: How to Read and Use Histograms.
There are useful tools that you can use in Camera Raw, but which will not be beneficial in batch editing such as: spot removal and healing, adding gradients, straightening and cropping. However, you can edit smaller sets within the opened big batch, with ease using the same process. Regardless of the number of images, you can select consecutive images you want to edit in smaller groups, and apply specific batch edits to those images only, such as cropping and other local adjustments.
While I find local adjustments very useful, for instance brightening or darkening selected areas, warming up and cooling down specific parts of an image, and all the tools available on the adjustment brush panel, these tools need to be applied to each image individually, as necessary. Bridge and Adobe Raw can only go so far. If more fine tuning, and intricate edits need doing, you will need to take the image into Photoshop or a similar software to do so.
Step 4: Remove Noise and Sharpen
Adjusting the sliders to remove noise in an image is essential for all images, more so if you are shooting at a high ISO. Noise in a digital image is composed of the grainy look that you see, and the red, green, and blue spots that show through on the image, especially in the dark areas. The luminance slider fixes the grainy issue, and the color slider removes the dots, so move both sliders until you remove the noise.
An image shot at a very high ISO such as ISO 8000 will need a different noise reduction value than an image shot at ISO 400. If this is the case with your set of images, you can go back and filter your images again as in Step 1, but using the ISO speed ratings this time, then proceed with batch editing. This process can be tricky, but is worth the extra step, especially when dealing with higher ISOs. It is essential to view the images at 100% when removing noise, so the effects of the sliders are visible. A word of caution: do not go overboard with the noise reduction and sharpening settings when doing global batch edits. The danger is that you may end up removal detail and color. The best way to ascertain the noise removal settings appropriate for an image, is to do it on every single image, due to the ISO and exposure variables which greatly determine the amount of noise in an image. But there is no reason why you can’t apply a gentle global noise reduction setting to your batch of images, and adjust from there individually as needed.
It is always good practice to sharpen all your images, ready for output. Sharpening values vary according to the detail, and information in the image. You can apply your chosen sharpening values globally if you are confident that the values are gentle, and general enough for all the images in the batch. A little sharpening is better than nothing. Some images however, may need specific, more aggressive, sharpening values, and this is where you need to apply the appropriate value to each individual image. Similar to removing noise, the best practice is to custom sharpen each image one by one.
Step 5: Save your images
Once you have made global batch edits to your images, I suggest you go through them one at a time, in the same Camera Raw window, and make final local adjustments for each one. Type cmd+alt+p to toggle between before and after previews. There are a variety of preview formats, so play around with the options given, to choose your preferred format.
Now it’s time to save your images. This is one of the features of using Bridge with Camera Raw that, for me, trumps all others. Select all your images again, and click the Save image button. A window opens up where you can specify where you want the images saved, or create a new folder for them. You specify the format you want them saved in, as well as quality. You name the files once only, and voila they are saved. Don’t forget to click the done button to store all your adjustments. If you close the window without doing so, all your adjustments will not be saved. Always make sure your images are in sRGB and are saved in sRGB color profile.
These are only very basic steps to get you started, Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw have so much more to offer. Play around, experiment for yourself, and find out how your workflow can be even more simplified. Editing in Bridge and Camera Raw does have its limitations, especially when it comes to fine edits on skin, and blemish and hair removals, but with their batch editing functionality, you can get you to a place where you’re ready for finer edits in Photoshop, much faster than opening each image in Photoshop as a starting point, and applying the same edits one at a time.
There you have it – a few simple tips for batch processing. By saving your images in a different format, you will have your new set of edited images, while your RAW files are safe in the original folder. When you open these RAW files again they will show the adjustments you have made, but you can reset at any time if you want to re-edit from scratch. Your edited images are now ready to be further edited in Photoshop, should you want to do more creative and artistic edits, or if there are more edits necessary like head swapping, skin blemishes and hair removal as mentioned above. Bridge and Camera Raw are only the beginning, they gives you a good clean edited image to build on.
A last word
Batch editing is not for every photographer, nor for every photograph. Neither is batch processing necessary for every photography job that comes your way. But it is an option that can be easily learned, and might just save your sanity one day when you need to edit thousands of images within a short time-frame.
Here are the two images before and after editing in Bridge and Camera Raw.
Do you have other smart tips to share when batch processing in Adobe Bridge?
I don’t use my tripod extensively in the same way a landscape shooter does, but I do consider a tripod an essential part of a photographer’s arsenal.
With regard to tripod heads, I have used a ball head for many years and they are extremely versatile. They’re very quick and easy to adjust. The most basic models having a single locking screw or lever; release it and you get a full range of pan, tilt, and swivel adjustments. Once you have the camera in position, you simply tighten the screw/lever to lock the head in place.
I use my tripod essentially in the following ways:
When the shutter speed is too slow to hand hold my camera, and I want to get a tack sharp image (s), or shooting in low light conditions.
Framing the shot through the viewfinder and then taking in the scene with my eyes without having to hold my camera, or having it on me. I like to see the shot I want to to take, rather than take the shot that I see through the viewfinder.
Most simply to act as a perch for the camera, ready to go. I spend most of my time prepping the shot before taking it.
The ball head that I used was the Manfrotto 486RC2 compact ball head which has now been discontinued and replaced by the 496RC2.
Image courtesy of Manfrotto
Over recent months, I have found this system of loosening the screw/lever on the ball head to make small adjustments frustrating, due to the weight of the camera and lens. I had to hold the camera with one hand and move the lever with the other. This was cumbersome at times, as the lever was sometimes too tight.
This may sound fickle. But I like my gear to work efficiently, and for me not be conscious of it, or thwarted by it. I prefer to concentrate on the shot I am about to take.
It was time for me to purchase a new head but I was undecided over whether to stick with the ball head type, or try a different style head altogether. Recently, I was working on a job in tandem with another photographer. He had the joystick type head on his tripod. I gave it a go, and found it it incredibly intuitive to use.
Talk about being smitten. I just loved it. It turned out to be the Manfrotto 322RC2.
The 322RC2 is made of magnesium, and is designed to keep the weight of your kit as close as possible to the tripod’s centre of gravity, by way of its reduced height. It weighs 1.43 pounds (.70kg), and while it’s not lightweight, it doesn’t feel heavy either, and the accompanying literature states that it can accommodate up to 11 lb. (5kg).
One single lever for quick control of all movements
Quick release plate with built-in secondary safety pin
Built-in bubble spirit level
Friction control, adjustable for different camera weights
Customizable for left or right handed use, in a vertical or horizontal position
Top view of the Manfrotto 322RC2. The trigger is big so that all your fingers rest against in when squeezing it.
Going from horizontal to vertical mode is so easy using this joystick head.
Straight out of the box, I was able to attach the head to my tripod. It does come assembled for right-hand users, but the 200PL quick release plate assembly can be removed and positioned for left-handed use. Uniquely, it can also be placed on the top of the grip in a vertical position like the traditional 222 design, but when used in this position the maximum load reverts to 2.5 kg capacity.
Top view of the end of the grip on the Manfrotto 322RC2, where you can attach the 200PL assembly plate, so that the camera sits on top, similar in deign of the 222 model by Manfrotto.
I was able to adjust the friction wheel by turning it either to the right or left. I then placed my camera and lens onto the quick release plate, and made further adjustments allowing for the weight of both. This friction control wheel lets you regulate the power of the blocking mechanism to match the weight of your camera/lens, which is key to its design.
The friction wheel scrolls to the right or left. The small red strip is the tension indicator which moves to the left or right as you adjust the friction wheel.
The built-in bubble spirit level is a nice touch. There wasn’t one on the ball head, so this feature just makes orientating your camera, horizontally or vertically, quick and easy.
The bubble spirit level is a handy feature, especially if you are adjusting your camera positions between landscape and portrait modes.
I’ve only had this joystick head a mere six weeks, so I can’t really comment on what the cons may be at this point. Obviously, this type of tripod head may not be to your liking, or suit your photography needs.
Although, this tripod head isn’t lightweight, I feel the weight justifies what it will be holding, especially when you combine the weight of a DSLR body and a large zoom lens. That said, from my experience, I only wish I had come across it sooner. The two areas I find it most useful are:
It is easy and intuitive to use
It offers very flexible camera positioning, using just one hand
In fact, the more I use it, the more I like it. Maybe over time, I will encounter some negative aspects, one thing I noticed is that it doesn’t fit into my existing tripod case with the head attached. By placing the head in a vertical position, this adds another nine inches to the total length.
I didn’t want to buy another dedicated camera tripod bag, as they can be expensive. So instead, I just bought a Hockey bag ($16.00) to store my tripod away when not in use, or to bring to location shoots. I now use my old tripod case for my small light stands and umbrellas.
There isn’t an independent pan lock. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see this being a necessary feature for some photographers who shoot panoramas, and so forth.
I would definitely recommend this tripod head, but I think the best advice is to test it out first. This type of tripod head is a matter of personal choice. Plus, this head is not new on the market, so check around for deals.
Disclaimer: I was not contacted or sponsored to test the above equipment. Opinions are purely by the author only.
In today’s world of digital photography there is an even greater demand and possibility to capture unique and different photos. Over time, every photographer will develop their own “cheat sheet” of techniques that they find pleasing, and more importantly, that their clients can use. There are numerous techniques and styles to diversify your portfolio, but here are six of my personal favourites to get you started.
1 – Put Yourself in the Picture
You see a beautiful vista and think the only thing that can improve it is having a person in the photo, to convey a sense of scale. But, you haven’t seen a single person in hours and are unlikely to see anyone anytime soon. This is when you can be your own model, and put yourself in the photo.
Simply set your camera on a tripod and attached your cable release.
Work out where and how you will appear in the photo (sitting down, leaning, etc.).
Compose the photo and take a trial shot to ensure the lighting and composition work.
Set the self-timer on your release for enough seconds to allow to get to the spot you need to get to (I find that 10 seconds is more than enough time for me).
Press the release start the timer, then get into position (take your time, you can always add more time if you need to).
Look at the result on your camera and make adjustments as needed (where you stand, etc.).
Repeat the process until you are happy with the result.
It will take a bit of trial and error, but the key is to make sure the photo looks natural. The great thing about putting yourself in the shot is that you also have a model release (providing there are no other people in the photo).
2 – Tilt-Shift Photography
Without getting into huge detail, this type of photography, also known as diorama effect or miniature faking, is essentially a technique that uses the illusion of blurring parts of the photograph, to turn a real world scene into something that looks like a miniature model. This effect can either be created while taking the photograph using a tilt-shift lens, or more commonly, in post-production using Photoshop or Lightroom (there are plenty on tutorials showing the step-by-step process available).
Tilt-shift photography is a great way to add diversity to your cityscapes.
Photos that are taken from a high view point looking down work best (not directly from above), and you need to ensure that the main point of interest is sharp, as that will work in contrast to blurred parts of the image. Experiment with some of the photos you have and you may be surprised by the outcome.
3 – Silhouettes
One of the great aspects of photographs that utilize silhouettes is that it simplifies the photograph to a basic level, of showing the subject in a two dimensional format. There are no textures, just a general outline of the subject. To capture successful silhouettes you need to find a subject that is easily recognizable in this basic format (i.e. people, buildings, etc.).
Simply compose the photograph keeping the sun in front of you (it doesn’t have to be behind the subject), and if your silhouette is not dark enough, stop down the shutter speed a couple of stops (shooting in Manual mode, or use -2 Exposure Compensation in Aperture or Shutter Priority) until you get the desired effect. Remember to make sure you turn off your flash. The best time for silhouettes is at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is low in the sky.
Successful silhouette photographs need to be a form that people will easily translate, something recognizable.
4 – Using Motion Blur
Motion blur is a truly fantastic way of adding dynamism to a photograph. Whether it’s the blur of movement of objects, people walking, playing sport or dancing, water, clouds in the sky, or even light trails from passing cars at night, a photograph with the correct motion blur can stand-out in any portfolio. Digital photography makes it incredibly easy to experiment with motion blur. The key is to ensure that it looks intentional, and not like camera shake.
To capture any sort of motion blur you will need to play around with the shutter speed. Put simply, the slower the shutter speed, the more movement you will capture, thus meaning more blur. Depending on the speed of the object, and also your creative vision, you will need a different shutter speed. Motion blur usually works best if there are sharp parts in a photo that contrast against the blur, so when using slow shutter speeds you will often need a tripod.
Motion blur is a great way to convey movement and speed and can add real dynamism to your images.
5 – Bleached Effect
This is one of the Lightroom preset effects that I love using on certain type of photos. Usually for portraits where the light is fairly flat and uninteresting, and I feel the photo feels gritty, harsh, and could benefit from muted tones. There are lots of different preset effects in Lightroom, and sometimes it’s worth having a flick through them to see if there are any that can enhance a photo. Like always, the great thing is that you can always revert to the original.
There are plenty of presets on Lightroom. Have flick through them and you might find something that enhances the photo.
6 – Unique Angles
Capturing unique photos is becoming more and more difficult, so sometimes you really have to think beyond the obvious eye-level shot. Get above objects and they look completely different. Get close to them and you start to capture details that people normally don’t see. Crouch down and capture a low angle, suddenly the scene takes on a completely different look. Next time you have captured the first photo, to go beyond that and capture a few more, but at completely different angles.
I had to stand on my chair to capture this photo.
This list is by no means all encompassing. Infrared photography, HDR, black and white photography, the list goes on and on. The important thing is to experiment and try out new techniques that you enjoy, find pleasing, and also help the final outcome. Over time you will build up a set of techniques and you will actively take photos for use with those techniques.
Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite techniques? Share them below.
When you’re shooting a family portrait, about nine out of 10 times the client will ask, “Do you have a place you typically like to shoot?”
We all do, of course, but if you take every portrait client to the same location, your portfolio will develop an undesirable, repetitive consistency. So, it’s important to thoroughly scout the area where you live and work, to build a list of go-to spots for any scenario, circumstance, and style.
Think about your city, and build a list of these places where you can shoot:
A field or shoreline with broad vistas to capture the aura and glow of twilight
A similar outdoor venue with features like tall grass or trees to provide backdrop
An outdoor area with full shade, appropriate for shooting midday
A covered outdoor space like a gazebo or covered porch, for shoots in inclement weather
An indoor space with high ceilings and lots of windows for natural light
Because most family portrait sessions will include a variety of backdrops and poses, the perfect shooting location contains all of these elements. But that’s rare to find.
Finally, make sure that you have the required permits, permissions, and licenses to shoot in your desired locations, whether they’re public or private (many municipalities require a business license to shoot in public places like parks and beaches).
Once you’ve built your list of go-to locations, you’re ready to schedule a session with a client. Here are the two scenarios that could play out:
1 – The client has already chosen a location
It’s surprisingly rare for a client to be dead set on a location, but sometimes there’s a family home, or a special place with memories where they’d like to be photographed. Or perhaps there’s extended family gathered together already, and they’d like to keep the photo shoot as easy as possible by having you come to them. If you’re shooting for next year’s holiday portrait or another special event, they may also choose a place that fits the theme, such as an evergreen forest or a snowy landscape.
If you’re not familiar with the location, ask questions about it while confirming the shoot. You may discover that you need to bring extra equipment like lighting to fill in shadows, if they’re hoping for a family portrait underneath a moss-strewn oak tree at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Likewise, indoor shots — such as people gathered around the fireplace or the Christmas tree, for example — may present difficulties with lighting that you’ll want to work out and be prepared for, prior to the actual shoot. When feasible, visit the site of any shoot before arriving for the actual job.
2 – The client is open to your location suggestions
This is the more common scenario, where you pull out that list of locations you’ve already scouted.
Start by getting a sense of the feeling the family wants to capture in their photos. If it’s a holiday family portrait, they may prefer a warm and rustic theme over something bright and urban, for example. Or they may want a look that’s relevant throughout the year.
Timing will also have a lot of influence over your decision on where to shoot. When possible, schedule sessions for an hour, to an hour-and-a-half before sunset, giving you time to arrive and chat, get the family comfortable with your presence and style, and then be fully ready to capture beautiful, stunning portraits just when the changing light is at its peak.
Sunset (and sunrise) shoots
For golden hour sessions, just after sunrise and before sunset, choose a location that ideally has both broad vistas, and objects of interest. For example, if you’re shooting on the beach, don’t just choose a spot with wide open beach (plus houses and passersby) – aim to find a section of beach with sand dunes, tall grass, driftwood, or even distant trees. These objects help frame the image and make it more interesting, without distracting from the subjects of the photograph. The same rules apply in a desert, lake, or city park scenario.
Midday shoots on a sunny day
The challenge with shooting at midday is shadows. You don’t want your subjects to squint in full sun, and you don’t want shadows from tree branches, or manmade obstructions, blocking portions of their faces. The key to shooting in midday on a sunny day is to put your subjects fully in the shade.
When a client wants to schedule midday, I often lean toward urban areas with architectural interest. If your city or town has a historic neighborhood, seek out alleyways, parks, cobblestone streets, or even sidewalks that are shaded at midday, but present a beautiful surrounding for subjects.
Cloudy day shoots
It’s a huge misconception that overcast days are bad for family portraits. Clients may be discouraged by the threat of rain, but encourage them with the news that even cloud coverage actually makes for beautiful outdoor shots — there’s no squinting and nice even light.
But, if there’s no drama in the sky (dark clouds swirling on the horizon), an overcast day may be less exciting when shooting with broad vistas and open spaces. Turn to your surrounding objects (trees, historic buildings) to provide the intrigue in the photograph. Or bring in a pop of color with balloons or other props.
On an overcast day, a local mural can actually make a perfect backdrop — just make sure your subjects wear muted tones (black, white, gray, beige) rather than colorful attire that might clash with the art.
Final tips and tricks
Start by putting together your list of places. Keep the same principles in mind that helped you choose those spots, when giving feedback to a client on their suggested locations. In addition, make sure that wherever you decide to shoot won’t be crowded at the time you’re there — the last thing you want is a bunch of strangers in the background.
Finally, be flexible. Not every shoot will be perfect, but it’s your job as the photographer to ensure that your clients have an enjoyable experience. Have confidence in your skills, and work around obstacles as they arise. If you are engaged and the subjects are happy, it’s possible to create gorgeous family portraits that your clients can share on cards, calendars, and gifts throughout the year.
Do you have any other location scouting tips? Please share in the comments below.