Thursday, August 25, 2011

Natural Light Photography

How often have you heard someone say "I'm a natural light photographer", and deep down you're thinking to yourself ... that probably just means they are so new they can't afford any supplemental lighting equipment?

And then, is it any surprise, when you see a portfolio filled with harsh sunlit pictures, or subjects with speckled (through the leaves) light on their faces and torsos, or even just plain flat unsatisfying light?

Well I confess! I'm addicted to my lighting equipment. For my photography, I often I want to create my own lighting scenario because I feel that it is the contrast of "light and shadow" that creates the image.

But that doesn't mean I don't do natural light photography.

I do love an overcast day because, it means that I can basically post my subjects anywhere and get a nice even fill light from any direction.  But an overcast day makes for a very boring (read "flat") main light, which typically means I'm going to be using my flash as my main light.  So an overcast day is typically not the kind of day where I am using natural light.

What is Natural Light Photography?

For my definition, I am going to mean any light that is naturally produced without the use of any flash equipment or reflectors to change or modify the existing light.  (yes, for some, the use of reflectors would be considered natural light too, but I want to restrict my discussion here to natural light - light that is unmodified by me)

What is the secret to getting soft yet directional lighting in a natural light situation?

The biggest/easiest secret is this: Open shade with a view of the sky!

If you can find the tiniest bit of shade (preferably not speckled shade created by trees) and get the subject to look UP into the sky, you will have turned their face towards the main light AND created a catch light in their eyes (that little glint of light you see in their eyes that brings their eyes to life is called a catch light).

The easiest way to do this, is to have the subject sit lower than you.  Then you stand over them in the direction of the open sky and have them look up into your lens.  You have now turned their face into the main light and added a catch light into their eyes.  I swear, it just works.  Every single time!  Take a look:

Natural Light PhotographyNatural Light Photography Natural Light PhotographyNatural Light Photography

One time I read about a photographer that uses his car garage as his studio. With the garage door open, he effectively creates "open shade" (inside the garage was the shade and the open garage door, without any direct light landing on the subject, created his soft directional lighting). So I had to try it. I've only done this once, but it was back in 2005 and it was so easy, it still stuns me with its simplicity! You can see the open garage door in the reflection of her eyes.  The brightness at the top is the sky. The darker, yet still lit up area in her eyes is the driveway. The darker sides of her eyes are the sides of the garage. (and if you look closely at her eyes, you can see me standing in front of her):

  Natural Light Photography

Other scenarios...  open shade with an object or a structure in front of the subject that is being lit up by the sun.  NO, I am not going to put my subject in the sun. I'm going to keep my subject in the shade, but turn his or her face towards that object that is being lit up by the sun.  Take a look at the following images. The catch light in her eyes is created by the concrete wall in front of her that is lit up by the sun.

Natural Light PhotographyNatural Light Photography

In this next image, we're up in the mountains and there is no direct sunlight.  We are surrounded by trees.  The open view of the sky (through the trees) is over my left shoulder. So I want the girl on the right, looking up to my left (into the light). This puts natural light from the sky on her face and body and creates my three dimensional view with natural light.  No flash or reflectors required.

Natural Light Photography

Other examples of natural light photography:

Natural Light PhotographyNatural Light Photography Natural Light PhotographyNatural Light Photography

Feel free to click any image to view a larger version of that image. And if you'd like to see more examples of natural light photography, click here.

Please feel free to ask any questions. I feel that there are no secrets in photography. I'm open to teaching you anything I know, because one way or another, you're probably going to learn. And rather than competitors, I'd like to think that we are friends with a common love for all things photography.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wedding Photography

It seems like everybody these days has a digital camera.  Which makes everyone, to some degree or another, a photographer, right?  I mean ... a photographer is simply someone who takes pictures with a camera.  And digital has made it so much easier to just jump right in.  The cost barrier for equipment is lower.  With instantaneous feedback, the learning curve is much flatter. Pressing the button doesn't cost much more than some "digital space" on your cheap memory card and ultimately on your low cost 1Terabyte hard drive.


I think the biggest disconnect in wedding photography is the realization of just how much time is involved.  Digital makes it seem so easy.  But is it really?

Here, let's break it down a bit.  First we'll look at time for a simple wedding (including engagements):
  • 1 hour 
    • pre-wedding (multiple conversations by phone, by emails, handling calendar, etc)
  • 12 hours (engagements)
    • 1 hour consultation (where to go, what to wear, things to do, what time to be there, arrangements with the location when necessary, etc)
    • 1 hour getting the gear ready (charging all of the batteries, cleaning the sensors, wiping the memory cards, making sure the bags are packed, packing the gear into the car) 
    • 2 hour engagement session, 
    • 1 hour for drive time (total, counting to and from the location)
    • 1 hour downloading the images, loading them into Lightroom, unpacking the car
    • 1 hour culling the images
    • 3 hours processing the images
    • 2 hours uploading, re-sizing, backing up, sending out email notifications, posting on Facebook, tagging, updating the accounting journal and mileage log, etc.
  • 3 hours invitations
    • 1 hour consultation 
    • 1 hour designing invitations 
    • 1 hour ordering, receiving, delivering
  • 4 hours prints
    • 1 hour consultation / handling the receiving of the print order
    • 2 hours editing, uploading / placing the print order
    • 1 hour receiving and delivering of the prints
  • 32 hours (wedding)
    • 1 hour getting the gear ready (more batteries to charge, cleaning the sensor, wiping all of the memory cards, testing the flashes, packing the studio lights if necessary, etc)
    • 1 hour drive time (total, to and from the location)
    • 8 hours wedding (arrive early, get detail pictures of the location, getting ready pictures, candids of guests arriving, wedding ceremony, family portraits, newlywed pictures, reception guests and activities, stay until the couple leaves, then clean up all the gear and pack it all back into the car)
    • 2 hours unpack the car, download the memory cards, load images into Lightroom, back everything up (and breath a sign of relief before heading to bed, usually around 1am)
    • 4 hours culling the images (that is finding the very best images of the 2000 or so images captured)
    • 12 hours processing the images
    • 4 hours categorizing, uploading, resizing, backing up, sending out email notifications, posting on Facebook, tagging, updating accounting journals for money received, mileage logged, etc.
  • 8 hours prints (much, much longer for albums)
    • 1 hour consultation / handling the receiving of the print order
    • 6 hours editing, uploading / placing the print order
    • 1 hour receiving and delivering of the prints

So all together we're already at a time investment of 55 hours (more than a full week's worth of 8 hour days)  just to handle a simple wedding with just engagement pictures, invitations, prints and no bridals or formals, no wedding slide show, no wedding CD and no wedding album.

What about time spent marketing so that you can get the wedding in the first place?

What about.... education (conferences, seminars, get togethers), time spent learning new techniques (photographic techniques, photoshop, Lightroom, etc), time spent networking with other professionals to learn what they do?  Have you factored that in to your overhead?

How about time spent doing taxes?  Remember sales tax is due quarterly.  You'll need time to prepare those taxes as well as the yearly crunch in April.

How much is your time worth?  Are you charging enough to cover your "time" costs for a wedding?

All of the above ignores the more obvious costs of equipment, such as:
  • $2500 - main camera
  • $2500 - backup camera (he who shoots a wedding with only 1 camera is bound for disaster)
  • $3000 - lenses (24-70, 70-200, macro, wide angle, etc)
  • $2000 - lights, light stands, umbrellas, remotes, sandbags, battery packs, batteries, etc
  • $3000 - computer, monitor, multiple disk drives (cameras have a voracious appetite for disk space)
The above ignores other money items like printers, studio lights, backdrops, desks, location costs (light, heating, rent), sales tax, income tax, social security tax, etc.  If you are more than a one-man-team then there is also the costs paying for assistants or employees.

It also ignores maintenance costs.  It seems like the more equipment you have, the more equipment you'll need to repair (ever drop a lens, a camera, a light, an umbrella?).  Mechanical parts wear out, the shutters are only good for about 150K pictures and if you're shooting 2K images per wedding, it won't take long to get there.

And all of this completely ignores what most people think are the "main" costs of a photography business... you know ... paying for a CD to put the images on, your up front costs for prints and albums and that nice boutique packaging you deliver them in, etc.

So what does it really cost to photograph a wedding?  Probably a lot more than you initially imagined.  And probably a lot more than what that low cost photographer is offering to shoot a wedding for (and he's probably only that low because he is still new and all of the above hasn't yet sunk in ... when it does, he will either raise his prices or quit).

Just remember ... you generally get what you pay for, and wedding photography is no exception.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Beautiful Sheyra

I met Sheyra at a wedding earlier this year.  I can't remember now if she told me she was pregnant then or if I found out later on Facebook.  But she is so gorgeous I asked if she would be interested in a maternity session.  She chose to do an outdoor session at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from that session:

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cleaning Up Lightroom Previews


To get the fastest possible speed with Lightroom, I use an Intel X25M SSD to store my Lightroom catalog together with the previews.  The downside to this idea, is that SSDs are expensive.  To keep costs in line, I purchased a small-ish 120Gb drive (that is, it is "small" compared to any regular hard drive in my system, most of which are 2Tb drives).

And it seemed like, over time, the more pictures I took, the less disk space I had available on my SSD.  To the point that I was starting to get worried about it filling up (meanwhile, my Lightroom Catalog was still only 6Gb in size, so I knew it wasn't chewing up all of the space).

Lightroom has an option to limit the size of the Camera Raw Cache (Edit | Preferences | File Handling | Camera Raw Cache Settings) which I also store on the SSD.  There is a purge button on that screen and I would click it from time to time and watch my space free up again.  But it was never really quite the same.  The free space still keep getting lower and lower.

Lightroom also has an option to discard 1:1 previews (Edit | Catalog Settings | File Handling | Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews) after One Day, One Week, 30 Days or Never.  I had it set to One Day and yet my disk space STILL kept dropping.

Lightroom also has an option to optimize the catalog (File | Optimize Catalog).  I have no idea what this does.  It is said to "speed up" the catalog.  I try it from time to time.  But the catalog never really feels slow to me.  And optimizing also doesn't appear to free up much space.


Well...  I discovered tonight that I had almost 134,000 files in my Lightroom "previews" folder, taking up just over 94Gb of disk space.  And I thought to myself ... how many of those files do I really need???

If a photo shoot is more than 6 months old, maybe I don't need quick access to the previews any more.  What if I delete those files?  (For the wary: Lightroom will automatically rebuild a preview the moment you try to view the file, so this is not dangerous in any way, all I'm doing is trading speed for disk space)

I discovered tonight that Windows 7 has a command called ForFiles that can be run in a batch file.  So I created the following file:

forfiles -p "d:\users\dwt\pictures\lightroom\Lightroom 3 Catalog-2 Previews.lrdata" -s -m *.lrprev -d -180 -c "cmd /c del @path" 
(all of the above fits on one line in the batch file)

I ran the above command file and my free space jumped from about 4Gb to over 57Gb (having deleted over 52,000 files).  Here's an explanation for what the above command is doing:

ForFiles is the command, the following are the parameters:
-p specifies the root path of the previews
-s tells it to scan subdirectories as well
-m is a filename mask (I used *.lrprev so that only Lightroom Preview files would be deleted)
-d specifies the number of days (-180 tells it to use today's date minus 180 days)
-c "cmd /c del @path" tells it to run the cmd process passing in the command "del @path" for each file found (@path is expanded to the full path and filename of the file found)

If you want to try creating the above command file and test it first without deleting anything... an easy modification would be to change "del" to "dir".  That way when you run the command you will see a list of each of the files found rather than deleting each of the files found.

Be sure to change the path (-p parameter) to match the location for YOUR previews.

Now whenever I want to free up disk space all I have to do is run this command file.  Super easy!  And if I want even more space,  all I really have to do is decrease the number of days (say to -90 instead of -180).

ON A HAPPY NOTE: I found that the catalog itself embeds a thumbnail of each image.  It's not very high resolution.  But it does mean that after deleting the previews and before Lightroom has a chance to regenerate them - if I jump into a folder that I want to see what it is, the thumbnails can help me figure it out quickly.

For Mac users - I have no idea what utilities are available for deleting files by date.  But the idea should be the same.  Feel free to delete your previews, they will come back when you need them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lovely Laura

I've worked with Laura Watkin on several occasions (a couple are here and here). She's always vibrant and fun to be around.  I was excited for this opportunity to do some maternity pictures for her.  Our mutual friends Pete Hansen and Emily Dunster assisted.  Check out Laura's pictures:

Maternity by David Terry PhotographyMaternity by David Terry Photography
Maternity by David Terry PhotographyMaternity by David Terry Photography
We had fun playing with some little blocks that Laura made spelling out the name of her unborn son:

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry Photography

Maternity by David Terry PhotographyMaternity by David Terry Photography