Lately my inbox has been overflowing with emails from photographers around the globe, looking for a little advice starting their business, or setting up their studio, or just answering some technical questions. The former teacher in me always wants to immediately sink my teeth in to your questions and compose thoughtful answers. Unfortunately with a chock full studio schedule, there are literally hundreds of emails I still haven’t had a chance to sit down and answer individually. I tend to just not do anything at all rather than do something halfheartedly. Eternal procrastinator or crazy perfectionist? The jury is still out.
So, in an effort to tackle some of these emails and give back a little, I’ve decided to answer some of the questions I receive most frequently on my blog each week. If you’d like to search through older FAQ’s in the future (although today is the first post!), you can access them by clicking on the categories tab at the top of the blog and then selecting Ask Heidi: FAQ’s.
If you’d like your question answered, you can submit it via our facebook fanpage each week! I’ll select the questions that I receive the most often or get the most likes on facebook each week and answer them here. So here goes with a few of last week’s questions. I’ve chosen questions this week that I get on almost a daily basis!
From Christina: How long does it take to setup each cake smash session, and how do you decide the theme for each one? They are always soooo cute and look like so much goes into each and everyone. Your studio must be huge to store all that stuff! lol
Our cake smashes have grown in popularity and scope over the past few years! Currently, I meet with every client for a pre-session consultation (or hold it over the phone if meeting isn’t possible). During that time we discuss ideas for the session and the artwork they are looking to create out of the resulting portraits. I shoot a session a bit differently if clients are looking to create an album or storyboard, than if they want a larger formal portrait for the wall, so it’s important to get some direction before starting the session. During the pre-session consultation we also talk about color and theme for the cake smash. Sometimes they have a very detailed idea in mind, pulled from baby’s nursery or birthday invitations, and sometimes they just know the colors they want and let me run with it. After meeting with them, I take the idea and come up with a decorative concept. Then we spend a few hours creating the decorations at the studio the week before the shoot. We’ve spent up to 8 hours prepping a cake smash before. Between the materials used and the time spent creating the sets, the session fee is more than a standard session that would not require such extensive set preparation. We save what decorations we can after the cake smash, and toss the rest. Most can usually be saved and recycled into new sets. We generally shoot on seamless background paper which we cut off and toss after the session. We have about 30 colors of seemless to pull from. I wish our studio was huge! In fact, it is pretty small. It is only about 1000 square feet which is divided into a entrance, shooting room, reception area, and nursery/changing room. People are usually surprised at how tiny it is! We store props downstairs in the basement, where we also have our computer stations for myself and the staff.
From Rebekah: What Camera / Lenses do you use?
I shoot with the Nikon D3s and my most used lenses are the 50mm 1.4G, 85mm 1.4D, 35mm f/2D, and 60mm 2.8D Macro.
From Kim: do you shoot in RAW, JPEG or both and why?
I shoot in RAW only for work and usually JPEG or both at home. I like the convenience of jpeg for family photos so I can quickly sort and share them without having to edit them. I shoot RAW for work because we fully edit each image that goes into a client final gallery and I like being able to make initial edits in Adobe Camera Raw without loosing image information or quality. RAW files are higher in dynamic range (their ability to record detail in highlights and shadows) which is quite important for natural light shooters who don’t have the advantage of studio light control. RAW files also store the complete lossless data from the camera’s image sensor as opposed to a jpeg which is a compressed version of that data. I also like the ability to restore all of the camera RAW presets if I want to go back and re-edit something.
From Megan: What is your favorite editing software and programs? I love the sharpness and bright color of your clients eyes and the milky-ness of the skin! Please share! I currently use Portrait Professionals and Adobe.
I complete initial edits (tweek exposure, color balance, and recover highlights) in Adobe Camera Raw and then do full editing in Photoshop. I’m a bit of a photoshop nerd because I love playing with it. I’ve taught photoshop workshops in the past, and will likely continue to do so after my maternity leave this year. While I do retouch in photoshop, and I love it for it’s ability to rescue a photo if needed (we all make mistakes!), the best advice for getting perfect skin and eyes is truly to get it right in camera. I know everyone says it and no one likes to hear that, but it is the truth! For example, creamy skin tones is all about proper soft lighting and color balance. Soft, even lighting at the proper exposure (I usually slightly overexpose in Manual mode) will start you off with even skin that has no harsh shadows to compete with. I often use a reflector to fill light the subject opposite the light source if the light is too harsh. If there is a strong color cast to skin (sometimes babies have a yellow or orange cast to skin due to the beta-carotene in their diet), then I use selective color adjustment layers to balance the skin in photoshop. I did experiment with Lightroom a few years back, but because I have a whole staff that works together on the same folders, and as of then Lightroom didn’t have the ability to save library information when used on multiple computers (not sure if it does now), it just doesn’t work for our studio set up. It was fun to play with though!
For the brightness of the eyes, it is a combination of proper light and focus. First, again, lighting is the most important factor. Photography is an artform completely dependent upon light. Finding good light should be the number one preparation for the shoot. You can have the most amazing set or natural background and photogenic subject with perfect wardrobe, and if it is improperly lit, it will all turn out looking amateur. Light is usually the difference between a WOW image and an okay image. I am still studying light, and will likely never stop! So, yes, make sure the subject’s eyes are properly lit whenever possible (I know it is tough with a toddler on the move). I try to get my subjects to look towards the light so the light fills their eyes or use a reflector to bounce some catch lights in. Second comes focus. I manually focus about 80% of the time now because I am such a stickler about eyes in focus and I shoot wide open. I don’t just want things to look good online (in fact looking good online is secondary), I want it to look amazing if it is blown up to a 30×40 canvas hanging in my clients home! Anything with soft eyes generally gets trashed unless it is an image I absolutely can’t part with. The quality of the lens also plays a big role in overall sharpness, which is why I shoot with high quality prime lenses. Getting the eyes in perfect focus adds that “sparkle” that often gets commented on in my photos. After the shoot, I use photoshop to airbrush skin and sharpen the overall image and eyes even more. But, trust me, there’s no way an eye out of focus or skin that is not properly lit will ever look like the image below (and I’m pretty handy with photoshop)!
From Patti: I know you shoot exclusively with natural light and I would love to know how you battle an overcast day in the studio.
This is a very fitting question for today because I actually had to reschedule the session today due to the studio being too dark. It generally only happens to me about 3 times a year though, depending on time of day and how dark it is outdoors. An overcast day is never a problem here. I have large, south-facing windows that get great light even on overcast days. In fact, I often prefer an overcast day because the light is so soft. On a sunny day, I have to draw my white curtains to soften the light on the subject. But, if I absolutely can’t work with the light, I do have to reschedule. I would rather deal with the scheduling than compromise the image quality.
Hope I’ve helped shed some light on these questions! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone, and don’t forget to visit facebook if you have a question you’d like answered. I’ll do my best to get to them all at some point!