Archive for 'Ask Heidi: FAQ’s'
2013 is already turning out to be a very exciting year at the Heidi Hope Studio! Now that we are finally caught up from the Holiday madness, we are starting up our Ask Us Anything feature on the blog again. For those of you new to our blog, we accept questions via our facebook wall and select the most popular questions to answer for you here!
This week, Mariah and I will be answering your questions together. Let’s get started!
Question: Hello, I love the softness in all your images! What is your favorite lens to photograph babies with? – Tania
Mariah’s Answer: Both Heidi and I use the 50mm 1.4 lens for most of our studio shoots. It’s a fast, sharp lens that lets you get close to your subject in a smaller space, and it gives beautiful depth of field! We also love the 85mm 1.4, but we usually use that outdoors, where you have more room and more depth to capture. The 35mm 1.4 is a wide-angle lens we keep on hand for really tight spaces on-location!
Question: How do you stay sane and balance being a full time mommy/wife/editor/photographer? – Stephanie
Heidi’s Answer: I don’t know if I stay sane per say, but I try to maintain some amount of balance by prioritizing my “to-do’s” in life and keeping a separation between “work time” and “family time.” It was much harder in the beginning. Starting a business, especially when your husband is your business partner, is an incredible amount of work and stress. We had to learn to keep work at work when we left each day so that we are able to focus on our family when we are at home. We also have an amazing staff now who helps me with the creative process every step of the way. I can’t imagine juggling all of this on my own!
Question: I absolutely love your light, and airy aesthetic. Any shooting, camera settings, or editing tips for capturing that beautiful creamy “glow” without getting hot spots? Will you be offering any editing workshops in 2013? Oh, pretty please??- Jeanne
Mariah’s Answer: Thanks Jeanne! We love a really light and whimsical look. First, we start with great light to work with! Our studio give us soft, bright light year-round, and we’re able to work with consistently awesome light. For camera settings, we shoot in Manual mode (allows us to push the exposure when we need a ‘glowy’ backlit shot), and always produce RAW format files. We’ll make sure our highlights are correct during the initial edit in RAW (we set our RAW window to show us blown-out highlights in red), and watch our highlights as we color edit in Photoshop, especially on skin tones. We almost always lighten our images with Curves in Photoshop, and soften parts of the image (sometimes even the floor!) with a skin-softening action to give it a dreamy look.
There WILL be workshop information announced soon, so stay tuned!
Question: Love the look of your images, what type of lighting setup do you use for a shot like this? – Kathleen
Heidi’s Answer: Thanks Kathleen! We use all natural light at our studio. We have a wall of large windows, and we soften the light with curtains when we need to. The image you’re referring to on facebook (below) was taken with the window camera right.
Question: Love seeing your SOOC shots with what settings you used. Could you post some? ( I know this is more of a request than a question) – Amanda
Heidi’s Answer: Here ya go Amanda! This is a fav from last week:
Question: I would love to hear a little more on the ‘behind the scenes’ setup of HHP… What are the daily responsibilities of your studio manager, and what would the most time consuming tasks be for the Manager?? Thanks for always keeping me inspired!! – Crystal
Mariah’s Answer: Hi Crystal! We have 5 employees that work at the studio every day: Shaun manages the business, Heidi and I photograph, Meg designs and orders all of our products, and Caroline edits and assists everyone with the million things we all do! Shaun is the guy who answers the phone and emails, keeps track of the books, makes the schedule, and conducts our in-person image viewing appointments, where he assists clients in choosing and planning their custom-designed products. The tasks vary from day-to-day (if we announce a special, he definitely has more phone and email time), but he consistently spends most of his time making sure our clients are happy! He also happens to take the trash out and do the laundry, which we appreciate him for.
Question: Do you use actions,and if yes what are your favorites? – Fofu
Heidi’s Answer: We use actions for all of our batch processing. We also most frequently use some color actions that we have developed for ourselves that fits our studio lighting really well. I love experimenting with editing though, and over the years some of my favorite go-to actions for playing have been from Florabella, Paint The Moon, Jinky Art and Oh So Posh!
Wait, did I just say that?
Yes, I said that. I said that even though digital negatives are the most profitable item any professional photographer can sell you after your session. We all know that the material cost of a CD or thumb drive is exceptionally inexpensive compared to producing albums, prints and frames. I said that even though digital negatives still remain one of the most popular products at my own portrait studio.
I’m here to tell you today that a disk of digital negatives should never be the only product you walk away with from your professional photographer. If you do, you are probably wasting your money. We believe in this so strongly at our studio that our team works hard to ensure all of our clients walk away with heirloom, archival safe keepsakes from their sessions in addition to their digital negatives.
Before I get everyone up in arms, let me start out by saying that we sell digital negatives at our studio after almost every session. Digital files certainly have a place for the consumer. We generally sell digital negatives to clients for the purpose of sharing with their family and friends. They love showing off their images on facebook, on their mobile devices, and printing out 5×7’s for grandparents and friends. That is all great, but surely that isn’t the only reason they invested in a professional photographer.
Why hire a professional photographer?
We all now have access to amazing equipment and technology to take everyday photos of our own lives. If we want snapshots of our kids to show off on facebook or print for Grandma, we can do it on our own. We can Instagram, email, Facebook, Tweet, and 1-hour-photo to our hearts content. I’m amazed every day at the artistic and photographic capabilities of Heidi Hope Photography clients. They definitely have a good eye! So many of our clients are amazing photographers in their own right and have equipment at home that rivals ours.
So why does anyone hire a professional photographer anymore?
We invest in professional photographers to capture the details of our life beautifully and in a way that no one else can. We invest in a service that caters to our specific requests and takes care of the whole process professionally from end to end. I can cook a gourmet meal at home, but there is nothing like going to my favorite fine restaurant and having the amazing staff take care of everything for us. We hire professional photographers to create “artwork” for us and for our families. We hire them to document a time in our lives through their unique artistic eye so that we can enjoy looking back on it for generations. If all you get is a dvd in the mail, upload to the pics to facebook and then stuff your DVD in a drawer, you are missing out on what professional photography truly is! Couldn’t you have just as easily shared some Iphone pics?
Enjoying your professional photography for generations.
“From the iPhone to the Garmin, advancements and gadgets introduced this decade changed the whole world. In the process, a few things that once were considered social mainstays are now either obsolete or well on their way. Remember busting out a map to figure out directions? Or using a cell phone that had actual buttons? Yeah, those days are a bit hazy for us, too.” – Bianca Male Business Insider
I began researching to revamp our 4-year-old website and came upon an astonishing bit of news; Flash is dead. Flash is DEAD? In 4 short years it went from being the darling of visual media, taught in all of my web design classes, to DEAD? Where have I been? It isn’t just flash. CD’s are dead. Desktop computers are soon-to-be dead. Yep, they’re as dead as payphones, road maps, and Blockbuster.
So what happens in 10 years when you finally have some free time and actually want to do something with those photos you had taken way-back when the kids were little? Like most people, you didn’t know what to do with them at the time, so you bought the disk. Where is that disk? If you are far more organized than I and can actually locate that disk 10 years later, chances are, your computer won’t read it. That’s right, computers won’t be manufactured with optical drives much longer. Oh, but you backed it up on that external hard drive. Sorry, fire wires and external hard drives are soon to be extinct too. Desktops won’t be around much longer either, so you probably only have a laptop or tablet that you were never even able to transfer those files to. At least you uploaded them to Facebook. Thank goodness Facebook is still in existence in this future hypothetical! What a shame you can’t print a 16×24″ for your wall off of Facebook.
Okay, maybe your photographer was up with the times and started offering flash drives in adorable little packaging. We’ll be offering flash drives rather than CD’s later this year for the aforementioned reasons. At least they have a longer shelf life. Or do they? Unfortunately, flash drives are equally unreliable with industry experts warning that flash drive failure and file loss is at epidemic proportions. “The price of USB flash drive data recovery services at typical data recovery labs can reach into the thousands and it might take weeks or even months to get your files back“ (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/9/prweb8735457.htm) That’s if you didn’t loose the little thing, like I surely would have.
Well, at least you can contact your photographer. They have a 20% chance of still being in business after the first 2 years. That’s if they were in fact a legitimate business. Did you check to see if they were a registered business? If they weren’t, the statistics are worse. Here’s to hoping they still have those files for you!
See where I’m going with this?
With the rapid change in technology, the only way to preserve your photographs so that they can be enjoyed for generations is by producing something tangible out of them. What’s even greater, I can guarantee that you will be even happier with your investment in professional photography if you do so! No one ever calls to say how much they love their DVD. They call to say how much their friends raved about their greeting cards this year, or how their wall art makes them smile every time they walk by, or how their toddler daughter looks at her newborn album every day!
This is so important to us at Heidi Hope Photography that we don’t sell digital negatives without giving clients their counterparts in print. We also include beautiful heirloom pieces such as wall art and albums in all of our collections that come with digital files. We take the time with clients during their viewing appointments to help them plan and design how to use and enjoy the photography we have created so that their investment lasts a lifetime… or longer! We show wall display options and custom design beautiful storyboards and albums so that the portraits clients adore can be proudly displayed and enjoyed. That is, after all, what you hired us for! We never want someone leaving saying “I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so I just bought the disk.”
I understand the desire to have access to digital files so that you can print and design on your own. I also believe some people actually do create beautiful artwork at home out of their digital files, even when I’m hesitant to give up the control of quality that is lost when we can’t check over the final product. If you are one of those people who still hasn’t ordered your wedding album however, you probably need some professional help figuring out what to do with all of those gorgeous photos you’ve had taken! If you do opt for digital files in addition to your heirloom pieces from your professional photographer, please back them up in multiple locations on a variety of platforms so that you have them to enjoy in the years to come.
Yes, in our digital world, digital files still certainly have their place, but you are cheating yourself, and wasting your investment, if all you walk away with is the files.
I can’t believe we’re coming up on my first full month working as Heidi Hope’s new photographer! It’s gone by so fast. I’ve been busy learning the process at the studio, meeting our fabulous clients, and building our new senior division.
Heidi has been all-out with sessions and projects, so I’m taking over the “Ask me Anything” series for March. We accept these questions via the Heidi Hope Photography Facebook wall. Questions that get the most “likes” and are asked the most frequently get answered from month to month. You can see all of our past Ask Me Anything posts by clicking on “categories” and then the FAQ section!
Onto your questions…
From Meg: Mariah, what are you most excited about in working for hhp? Do you have a favorite photo of Heidi’s and why?
There are so many things to be excited about. Aside from watching our new senior division grow, I feel very lucky to be working with a team of people that I highly respect. As artists and business owners, everyone here at Heidi Hope rocks, and I’m so psyched to be creating art with them!
I love all of Heidi’s work, and have followed it since she first started. I think my favorite has to be this one, though:
I remember seeing this photo before I joined the team and thinking ‘if I get the chance to photograph clients this cute, I’m in’.
From Bree: Do you guys at HH use a backdrop system or a simple backdrop stand for all of your lovely rolls of seamless?
We have a backdrop system in the studio that we use for larger rolls of basic paper (white, black, etc). The majority of our shoots use different colors of paper, so we put these smaller rolls on portable backdrop stands. It’s easier to switch them for each session that way. The portable stands are always weighted with sandbags for safety.
From Megan: Are little kids naturally more, well, natural in front of the camera because of their age, or are they harder to cajole into a non-posed picture?
Little kids are less self-conscious in front of the camera, which is really fun! They’re so genuine, and simple activities show true personality. It’s funny you mention ‘non-posed’ pictures, because truthfully, most pictures with little kids are technically non-posed. Staying still and posing isn’t something a 4-year-old wants to do, so we make everything into a game or a fun activity to get them into the right spots.
My favorite trick (especially with boys) is to ask them to jump as high as they can with their hands in their pockets. When they land, I click, and they’re usually laughing and posed just how we want them! Shh
From Meg: What’s your favorite color?
From Stephanie: Will you still be working on the North Shore (Massachusetts)? I also noticed that your blog said on-location…Will you be using the studio at all? Do you have a favorite location for shoots in RI?
Yes, I’ll be serving all of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The locations on the North Shore are too good not to use for shoots! For Heidi Hope, I’ll be shooting mostly on-location (when weather allows), but I’ll be doing studio sessions as well. One of our senior packages includes an indoor session, and I can’t wait to start designing studio backdrops and sets for it.
I love Roger Williams Park. It’s gorgeous, and has a great variety of backdrops in a small space. I parked my car at the carousel the other day, and was able to quickly walk to the Temple of Music, the Japanese Gardens, and the Boathouse! Other favorites are Narragansett State Beach, Bristol, and the vineyards in East Bay.
From Meg: If you had a cake smash what would your set look like?
I’d love to have an entire Sweet Indulgence cake to myself, haha. Getting frosting in my hair doesn’t thrill me, so I think I’ll take a cue from one of our recent clients and have a ‘cake smash tea party’ instead. With a blue, nautical theme! The whole Heidi Hope team will be invited.
From Kristen: Would you ever consider any Boston locations? Do you like to shoot in studio or on location? What do some of your favorite shots look like???
Yes, we currently serve the Boston area for on-location shoots. Faneuil Hall and the Public Gardens are my favorite locations there! My business was built on outdoor photography, and I still get excited about discovering new locations and finding beautiful backdrops and light in them. But, I have used a studio throughout the years, and do appreciate the controlled lighting and ability to use a lot of props.
Here are a few of my favorite images:
From Meg: Do you have a funny photog story to share with us?
A lot of my photographer stories come from the funny things kids say to me! I remember certain quotes from an adorable 8-year-old boy, who was such a ham:
MG: So, why do you want to be an actor and model?
“I want girls to scream at me like they do at the Jonas Brothers!”
MG: Can you tilt your head for me? (I say this a LOT to kids during a session)
“Mariah, shouldn’t we be trying some different poses?”
His Mom: So, how do you think you did?
“I think she got some money shots.”
February has been such a quick and crazy month for us. Today I looked at the calendar and realized I had better get our February Ask Me Anything post done…. because it’s almost MARCH! Work has been a whirlwind since 2012 began. Usually January and February are our “catch up” months as it is a slow time for portrait photography in New England, but this year we’ve sold our home and moved, hired a new amazingly talented photographer (who I can’t wait to introduce to you all), set up to launch our new senior division in March, had a great interview on Jpeg2Raw, photographed our super fun Gender Reveal with the help of Organic Bloom’s gorgeous frames and the perfect Sweet Indulgence cake, and prepared to be a celebrity photographer for Chic Critique Forum beginning March 5th! All with a sold out studio schedule and our continued work with The Tiny Sparrow Foundation. Phew! I won’t mention the things we haven’t gotten to yet, like our 10K facebook giveaway that will hopefully happen before we hit 15k…. I promise it will happen someday soon… PROMISE! Then there is this whole being pregnant thing.
I remember with my first pregnancy, I would check out Babycenter.com every single day, counting down the hours until my due date. Time moved so slowly. Last week I received my Babycenter email update and realized I had deleted the last 4 without even reading them. How did my baby grow from a mango to a butternut squash since I last thought about being pregnant??? All I can say is that this baby girl better like the fast life because things don’t appear to be slowing down in 2012. Looking at the year ahead I feel ever-so-blessed to have so much to be excited about.
So onto your frequently asked questions for February. We accept these questions via the Heidi Hope Photography Facebook wall. Questions that get the most “likes” and are asked the most frequently get answered from month to month. You can see all of our past Ask Me Anything posts by clicking the link below. I’ve also included links to my two most recent interviews, because many of your questions may be answered there as well. I can’t wait to begin working with more of you one-on-one during our Chic Critique 4 week Critique next week. For all of the reasons mentioned above, I doubt I’ll get to another Ask Me Anything until April, but of course you can always keep up with us on Facebook and the blog :0).
From Aaron-Nicki: What is your method for showing clients their images? This must be an exciting event for them and for you as well! How do you make it special and fun while also keeping it efficient and productive?
2 weeks after each session we have a scheduled ordering appointment. This is when clients see their full gallery of images for the first time and we walk them through the ordering process. We offer beverages and start with a slideshow to keep it fun, but Shaun is pretty good at making the time together productive as well. He’s very helpful with decision-making…. If I were running the ordering appointments, we’d be there for hours trying to cut! I’m a horrible decision-maker. We use ProSelect to show clients their images and help them narrow down to their favorites for wall displays and custom designed products. The appointments generally last about 60-90 minutes.
From Jessica: Do you use a reflector (or anything else) to bounce light? In my studio, the light falls unevenly on my subjects from the East window. Thanks!
Yes! With the way that we set up in studio, our light is often from the side (about 90 degrees) and I prefer 45 degrees for more even portrait light, so I’ll use a reflector on the opposite side of the light source to fill in shadows and soften the light. Of course with a toddler on the move it is more difficult to catch perfect light, so I try to get them to look towards the light as much as I can throughout the session. If it is a very bright day, I pull the white curtains to soften the light further.
From Megan: What company do you use when ordering prints/photobooks?
From Megan: What were your biggest influences in actually learning all the little details of photography? Any favorite books, websites or blogs that you use for inspiration or for continuing education!? Thanks. Touching photographs by the way!!
Most of what I learned about photography was during my teaching years. I had to learn it to teach it! I scoured the web and school reference books for all the information I could when designing lesson plans. When I began in newborn photography, I loved looking at Baby as Art, Kristen Cook, and Kelley Ryden & Tracy Raver for inspiration…. All of whom I found on flickr in those days!
From Natalie: Who do you use for web and logo design?
I purchased website templates about 4 years back. My brother is a computer nerd (sorry Marshall) and he was so helpful in getting everything installed and set up on my website. From there I did all of the graphic work and writing on the sites. I also designed my own logo in Illustrator. Since then we’ve hired a full time graphic designer and she now handles all of the website updates and custom design work. She also recently refreshed our logo and I love it!
From Heidi: How do you adjust your white balance. Your skin tones are just perfect!
I get this question a lot! In the studio I don’t have to do a whole lot of adjustments. I set my Kelvin number in camera and then do custom balancing in ACR and photoshop after the shoot. I always feel it needs some tweaking in post processing because I’m a bit obsessed with color. I like things warm and pink, but I don’t like too much yellow. I’ll often adjust to reduce the yellow in photoshop using selective color. Also, during a typical natural light shoot, the light is constantly changing. If a cloud passes by the images will appear blue, then the sun shines in and the images warm up to yellow. This happens from moment to moment. Same thing outdoors of course! I haven’t come across a guaranteed way to get a consistent color balance throughout a natural light shoot when the conditions change so often, unless I was to keep rebalancing. Anyone who photographs toddlers knows that you have to pick your battles (and pray a little) during the shoot! If anyone has a better way, I’m all ears :0)
From Jeanne: You mentioned in a previous post that you shoot at a higher ISO setting, wide open. On these dreary winter days, I’m finding myself setting my ISO higher and higher (especially when I’m working with a fast 2 year-old or families). I’m starting to get worried about my image quality. What is your limit, how do you compensate for low light conditions, and how do you determine when to make the call to reschedule due to insufficient light?
I test out the light a few hours before the shoot. I work with natural light exclusively so I don’t compensate for low light except by setting my High ISO Compensation in camera. If I would have to go above 1600, I would call it. For toddlers, I also think about shutter speed which I like above 200 if I can. It’s also important to nail your exposure when shooting at high ISOs. If you have to edit your exposure in post processing, you will see much more noise. If you perfect your exposure in camera, you won’t notice the noise as much!
I’m in the midst of writing answers for this months Ask Me Anything series, but while you’re waiting for those there’s another great way for you to read up on some of my answers regarding photography, business, and inspiration! Go check out our celebrity interview on The Chic Critique Forum this week. Their website is a wealth of info for photographers of all levels and while my 4 week critique is sold out, you can still sign up to silently audit the class and get some great photography tips HERE! To view our interview, visit the link below. Happy reading!
Brandi asked: What camera would you recommend for a mom who just wants better day-to-day pictures of her kids? My camera stinks and there are so many out there it’s overwhelming for someone who knows nothing about photography!
I actually receive this question frequently online, through email, and from clients in the studio. I think it is such a popular question because the answer is constantly changing. I haven’t bought a non-pro camera in years, so while I can explain to you what all the specs actually mean, I haven’t done much research on brands and models in a long time. Because camera companies are coming up with fabulous new digital camera models constantly, I would recommend learning more about what the features actually DO, and then you can research what current models have the features that are most important to you. I recently found this article which I think is a really great starting point for anyone buying a camera. It was posted by The Verge, a relatively new tech site, and it goes over all of the basics of photography and camera body types. I highly recommend you read this while you get started on your search!
Kelly asked: How many pictures do you actually take during a toddler shoot and how many of those would you say you’re happy with. They’re quick it’s hard to catch them!
Haha! Kelly, you must be a photographer yourself because anyone who has photographed a toddler session knows you often end it completely exhausted and with a very full memory card! I’m no different. In fact, let me go look at my session I shot this morning. I had a two year old boy in the studio and took 526 images! That includes all of the light tests, set tests, color balancing, etc. It was a dark day so I was working with shooting almost wide open, a slow shutter speed, and a high ISO. That means there will be a LOT of out-of-focus shots. I often overcompensate shooting in a situation like that so I would say that number is the very high end of what I shoot at a toddler session. All of our client galleries are approximately 30 images, so I will take those hundreds and gradually narrow them down to the absolute best. I want every portrait to be a “wowzer”, and the rest get dumped!
Rachel asked: What settings do you use indoors if there is very low light to still achieve crisp pics?
This is another good question for today because it might have been one of the darkest days I’ve had a session in a very long time. And could it have been for a newborn session? No. It had to be for an active 2 year old! But we made it work. There are no special settings I use and I’m usually changing my settings throughout a session depending on the look that I am trying to achieve. I always shoot pretty wide open, and I wont go below a shutter speed of 125 unless it’s for a newborn, so if the conditions are too dark, I reschedule the shoot. It happens 2-3 times a year that there isn’t enough natural light for me to conduct a session in our studio. If today had been for a family or group, I would have had to reschedule because you can’t shoot a group at f/2. In fact, it is pretty darn hard for a toddler too!
Anya asked: What editing software do you use?
Photoshop CS4…. but the girls are harassing me to get CS5 so I’ll probably give in soon :0) I might just wait until CS6 comes out at this point!
Sharon ElizabethPhotography asked: I just thought of this today while driving.. what do you do with the props you no longer use?
My husband calls me a hoarder. I think I just like to be prepared. I have everything stored in our studio basement! I’ve been thinking I should have a giant yard sale soon though!
Liz asked: Working with toddlers is so tough! What’s your favorite music/toy/activity to help get them out of a funk? I think most of us parents are listening with a close ear as well And PS. Are you having any specific pregnancy cravings??
I’ve learned with toddlers that once you lose them, it’s all over. With that in mind, I start the session really fun. I want them to forget that there is something I want them to do, and instead distract them with the illusion that I’m the fun lady with all the toys who occasionally makes strange animal noises. We play fun music and have plenty of toys on hand. If they don’t want to do something, I don’t push it. You NEVER want a power struggle with a toddler, because you WILL lose. Instead I rely heavily on trickery and bribery. Trickery allows me to get them into the sets or props I want while making them think it is their idea. Bribery is the last resort at the end of the session when I’ve almost lost them. I pull out our studio treasure box and try to get those last few shots!
As for pregnancy cravings, I’ve got a blog post coming on that too, but I will say that salty foods and ice cream top the list. I wish I had more easy questions like that to answer! LOL
Jess asked: You often shoot stunning backlit photos – where and how do you meter to make sure you’re not under/over exposed? ♥
For backlit shots I ignore the light meter. Instead, I manually expose by eye. To be honest, I never really light meter. I mostly shoot in manual to my taste while keeping an eye on my histograms. Unfortunately you can’t even trust your histogram for a backlit shot because most of your highlights will be blown out to get your subject properly exposed. Depending on the strength of the light source behind your subject, you may need to overexpose by 1 stop or you may need to overexpose by 5 stops! The bad news is there is no perfect formula. The good news is, you can get a perfect exposure by simply switching to manual mode (M) and playing around a bit. You do want to ensure that none of your subject is overexposed or “blown out”, and that will take a little bit of experience to eyeball as you can’t rely on the histogram. If you have a point and shoot camera and want to experiment with backlighting, the “snow” or “beach” modes are often set up to compensate for backlight, so give those a try!
Melanie asked: How do you juggle keeping everyone in focus when you have 3 or more people in a photo using only natural light? I always want the eyes to be in perfect focus, but often can’t bring my f-stop up high enough.
There are many factors that go into the depth of field in your image, so there is no one answer to this. I was actually just asking my friend Amy, another local photographer, about this a few weeks ago when we were discussing using different lenses. The focal length of your lens, the f stop you are shooting at, and your distance from the subject all contribute to a formula for how much of your image is in focus. Here is a great chart on calculating depth of field: Depth of Field Calculator
You can try a few things first, like increasing your fstop number or switching to a shorter focal length lens. If you are stuck with your settings here are a few tricks you can try:
- Shooting from the same position and focusing manually, toggle your focus from the furthest subject to the closest, shooting a few frames at each focal point. This will allow you to later composite in photoshop the sharpest of each subject.
- Using single point autofocus, select a focus point in the center of your group, then recompose the shot.
- If you know you only have a few inches of DOF to work with given your settings, try to get everyone’s faces onto the same plane through your posing. This means if there were a giant, imaginary sheet of paper directly in front of your clients, everyone’s noses would be touching it. To accomplish this, you could try posing your clients and then have them try to get their cheeks almost touching!
- Back away from your subjects! The further you back away, the more you will get in focus. You can always crop in a bit in the final shot.
I hope you all enjoyed January’s “Ask Me Anythings”. I’ll be posting on Facebook before our next one, so stay tuned and your question just might get picked! In the meantime, you can check out our past FAQ’s here. Don’t forget to share the love on facebook if you want to see more Ask Me Anything posts!
This post has been floating around in my head for at least the past year, so I decided this week to take a crack at blogging it. Just about everyone I know is having a baby in 2012, including myself, and since there will be a period of time that I can’t take on any newborn clients, these are the questions I will be telling my best friends and family to ask before choosing their newborn photographer.
Newborn photography is an increasingly popular genre of photography these days. It seems each week a new baby photographer pops up on Facebook. Given the lower cost of digital equipment, the availability of ready-made websites, and the massive reach of social media, you can literally start a business with just a few clicks of the mouse today. This can be a good thing for consumers, and a very bad thing for consumers. It creates a more competitive marketplace and for those who are active online and do their research, there are some very good deals to be had. It is also a great time to start a business. Many of the most successful businesses I know locally have seen wonderful success through internet marketing (including ours!). The downside is that it also becomes hard to discern fly-by-night businesses from true professionals. Think of some of your favorite business pages on Facebook. Can you answer any of these questions about them: How long have they been in business? What kind of training and education do they have? Is their business registered in the state in which they operate? Are they insured? Where is their physical business located? How can you contact them outside of Facebook and are there any business hours during which you know you could reach them?
It might not matter to you much if you’re hiring a photographer who is going to burn all of your digitals onto a disk for $100. Heck, it’s not a huge loss. Who cares if you don’t love the images or if they aren’t in business tomorrow? It’s worth a shot to try them right? Well, with newborn photography, it should matter to you.
First, the period in which you can have newborn portraits taken is fleeting and very brief. Most newborn portraits are taken within the first month of life, often under 2 weeks of age. If you miss that period, or worse, hire someone that disappoints you, the opportunity to create newborn portraits is over. Much like wedding photography, there’s only one chance to get it right!
Most importantly, this is your very tiny, helpless newborn child. A newborn is a human life, not a photographer’s prop. You are entrusting them in the hands of someone you just met (or maybe just found on Facebook, YIKES). I remember how I felt when the nurse first took Giuliana away at the hospital. That gut-wrenching need to hold and protect the baby I just gave birth to. And that was a NURSE!
Note: I’ve created this post to highlight what I feel are important questions to ask when researching a photographer for your baby. The Newborn Photography industry is not regulated, nor is there a way to become certified. There are no right or wrong answers to many of these questions (although I will say that questions regarding safety in newborn photography should be considered seriously). It is up to anyone as a consumer to decide for themselves what answers make them feel most comfortable before investing their money with a professional. My intention is simply to get you to ASK.
Please, do your research and consider these things before hiring your newborn photographer.
Newborn photography is an art form and each photographer is an artist. When you are hiring a photographer, first consider their style. Baby photography can range from documentary black and whites to highly styled sets, from modern family candids to formal family portraits, from traditional newborn portraits posed on black to the use of colorful and whimsical props. Editing can range from soft and dreamy to sharp and full of contrast. When hiring a photographer for my family, I waited until I fell IN LOVE with someone’s work. I knew that every time I looked at their portraits in my home, my heart would sing. I saved up to go to them, rather than going 3 or 4 times to someone else who’s photos may never make it past an album on Facebook.
It’s often overwhelming to narrow down your choices. Style is a very personal choice and if you aren’t sure what you like, a good idea is to start with browsing photographer’s websites. A website portfolio is often the photographer’s BEST work. Out of all of the portraits the photographer has ever taken, these are their FAVORITES. If you don’t like the images on the website, move on, because chances are the BEST images from your session are going to look much like that… if you’re lucky! If the photographer has a blog, even better. A blog is often a photographer’s most recent work and can be updated daily. Our blog is full of sneak previews for clients, just a few images from every session we shoot here. Some blogs highlight full sessions, others showcase favorite images much like a portfolio. Find out what the blog is showcasing and you can look for consistency in the photographer’s work. A good photographer should get results you love at every session. Which brings me to my next point.
Experience should always be considered when hiring a photographer, but especially a newborn photographer. Experience should not just include how long the photographer has been in business, but also how long they have specialized in the genre that you are hiring them for. Ask prospective photographers how long they have been in business and how long they have been photographing newborns. Also, about how many newborns do they photograph a month? I’ve actually only been in business a little over 3 years. That’s young in the business world! But I also photograph hundreds of newborns a year (an average of 3 newborns each week). There might be someone who has been in business for 10 years and never photographed a newborn, or someone just starting out who was a neonatal nurse in their past career! You don’t know until you ask.
Why is it important to consider? I can tell you my newborn portraits today are leagues above my portraits from a year ago and a world away from my portraits of 2 years ago. I’m still learning more about newborns in every single session. With experience comes skill and consistency. Just being a parent does not make you a newborn expert (although I may have thought I was one after my first child). I think you can judge by how many people give you unwarranted baby advice just how many people out there think they are baby experts!
Every baby is so different from the last. There are endless variations in how each newborn eats, falls asleep, likes to be held and positioned, how heavily they sleep and how easily they wake, and their overall disposition. Experience allows the photographer to read a newborn’s temperament from the moment they walk in the door and create a session that keeps a newborn comfortable and happy. A newborn should never be forced into a pose or a prop they are uncomfortable in.
Good newborn photography takes a very high level of skill. Anyone starting out will remark at how hard it can be. Over time you learn babies and fine tune your practices. This leads to overall quality and consistency. No matter what the baby’s temperament, a good newborn photographer should be able to achieve beautiful newborn portraits out of EVERY SINGLE SESSION. If you hear a photographer excuse poor photos with “well, the baby just wouldn’t sleep” or “they wouldn’t settle down” or “all they wanted to do was eat”: be weary. Babies run the show. Some DO want to cluster feed, some will want to stay up the whole session, some will be fussy or gassy. A good newborn photographer observes your baby and allows what they see to inform the poses they choose during a session. If your baby is alert, I’m never going to try a hanging shot. I’m sorry. If they like their arms tucked in tight, I’m not going to force them to be propped up on their hands. No matter how much you love the shot.
An experienced newborn photographer should be able to comfort your baby, to work with them whether they are awake or asleep, and to create a gallery of beautiful portraits no matter what. After just about every newborn session I shoot, parents will remark: “Thank you for being so patient. You’re like the baby whisperer. It was so fun to watch. Can you come home with us?” Those are the best compliments I can receive.
A baby photographer needs to be good with babies first and foremost or you will never get the results you envision.
This is probably going to be a hot button issue in this post, but I’m telling you what I would tell my best friends and this is it: After running a growing photography business for the past few years I can guarantee you that someone who charges $200 for a DVD of all of the digital images from a newborn session is either A: portfolio building and doesn’t mind losing money on your session (so likely has little experience in the genre), B: has very little business and is just trying to get clients in the door (not knocking it, but you should certainly consider why their business is hurting), C: will either be out of business soon or forced to increase their prices. Here’s why:
Every business is different. I own a studio that has a full time salaried staff of 4 highly educated and experienced professionals. Our pricing is going to be different than, say, when I ran the business out of my home on a laptop. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just different business models. I can tell you however, and I know every legitimate business in the country will back me on it, all businesses have a huge list of taxes, insurances and other fees (lawyers, accountants, payroll, unemployment, etc) that go into staying afloat. Add all of that boring mumbo-jumbo to the fact that a newborn session takes 3-4 hours of shooting time, plus 6-8 hours of editing, equipment and image storage costs, gallery hosting, (I could go on and on), if anyone out there can profit off of only $200 when all of that is taken out of it, they should be teaching economics at Harvard.
I’m not saying don’t take advantage of a deal. Just know that there is a reason you are paying those prices and take the time to research WHY. Is it their experience? Is it the quality of the images? Is it their low overhead? You’re taking a chance and you could end up with a great deal on an up-and-comer or you could waste $200 and miss out on your chance for the newborn portraits you were hoping for, or worse, endanger your newborn.
This is another hot-button topic in the newborn photography industry today. There are some wonderful articles on newborn safety already written, so I won’t rewrite the book. Please take a look at these articles as they are a great wealth of information:
Take Off Your Mommy Goggles (a website full of resources)
After reading through some of the biggest issues in newborn safety above, here are some safety related questions you can ask your potential newborn photographer:
If the photographer is not coming to your home, what is the environment that you will be bringing your baby into? Please go visit beforehand if you can! You should make every effort to meet with your newborn photographer and ensure you are comfortable with them before you hand your baby over to them. Their studio should be cleaned regularly and be set up for babies as you will be spending a good deal of time there, usually when you are still recovering from delivery.
How do they achieve their more difficult portraits? Often if you look at a portrait and say “how did they get a baby to do that?”, the photographer composited a series of images together to achieve the portrait. That means they took multiple images in which baby was always safely supported and then spent a good deal of time in photoshop editing the images together to seem as if baby was really in that remarkable position! If they didn’t, they are risking the safety of the baby. The time and skill it takes to produce such images safely is another reason why you may pay more for that photographer. Ask photographers how they created those remarkable images. Babies should never be placed high above the ground without someone spotting them, placed in an object that could tip over without support, hung without support, or placed in glass containers. All of the images below were created using compositing.
Is their business insured? What if, god forbid, something should happen to your baby in the hands of this photographer who is practicing risky newborn posing techniques?
Do babies look comfortable in the photographer’s images? Newborn babies are very flexible and love being curled up into the positions that they were in in the womb. Babies should easily curl into these poses and their faces should be relaxed and peaceful in the final image. If a baby looks uncomfortable in a pose, they probably were. If they look like they were trying to squirm out of it, they probably were. I can’t even begin to convey to you how a portrait of a baby with their face buried in a bean bag or squirming on a hard surface makes me cringe! Who wants a picture of that? Peaceful baby photos are not magic. The baby really was peaceful. Some poses take a little comforting, or some time with a binky if baby is about to wake up from being moved, but your photographer should be able to comfort your baby and keep them happy.
Are parents allowed to watch the session? Every photographer is different in this respect. Personally, I love having the parents watch me work. I want them to see how comfortable their baby is with me. Actually, I even have the parents come over and help with some of the poses. Often they are the ones helping to hold the baby in some of the composites or sitting right beside a set up to ensure baby’s safety. I know I wouldn’t trust someone to take my newborn into another room and not allow me in for 3 hours, but that’s just me. It is sometimes easier for the photographer if nervous parents are not in the room with the baby, as the baby responds to a parent’s energy, but usually after a few minutes of watching me work, mom and dad lose any nervousness they may have had. I’d rather take a little extra time so that mom and dad can enjoy watching the experience and feel 100% confidence in me.
In a market where it can be hard to discern a legitimate business out from the crowd, one last thing to consider is the business practices of the photographer or studio you hire.
What happens if baby is born early or late (as they usually are)? Can the photographer get you in early or reschedule you to a later date. Newborn photographers are often more highly priced because they need to maintain flexibility in their schedule to move around their newborn sessions. Rather than jam-packing our schedule, we must limit the number of sessions we take each week to ensure each newborn is photographed within the first two weeks of life.
What is the general timeline for a session? How long will it take to see your final gallery, create birth announcements, receive your printed album? How long will it take for someone to get back to you if you call? I know it takes me a staff of 4 people full time to manage 6-7 sessions a week and maintain the level of customer service and quality of product that I am proud of. While it does take time to edit, design and produce orders, it shouldn’t take 6 months to receive an album, and you wouldn’t want birth announcements going out when baby is 5 months old. Not everyone needs a staff, but if you hire someone who shoots high quantity at low prices, know that you may sacrifice some level of quality and service.
Do you sign a business contract before the session? A photographer’s contract protects you as much as it protects them. A contract should outline all of the photographer’s business policies and be signed and agreed upon before your session date. And please, take time to read the contract and all of the policies before you sign the dotted line!
Reviews: Ask around town! Don’t trust everything good you hear, and don’t trust everything bad you hear. I remember I once had someone who never even booked with us write a bad review online because I couldn’t photograph her on a specific weekend (we’re not even open on weekends). With that being said however, if you repeatedly hear complaints about a studio’s service or quality, you should give it some thought. Also, don’t trust every good review you read online. I have a folder full of screen shots on my computer from start up photographers who have copied everything from my “about me” section to the reviews my clients have written off of my website. Don’t trust everything you see online. Anyone with some start up cash or a little copy and paste skill can have a professional website that looks pretty trustworthy in just a few days time.
Please don’t stop at a photographer’s website or facebook page. Take some time and be an informed consumer. Know what you are spending your money on. Your baby is worth it!
This week’s most popular Ask Me Anything questions had a lot to do with business advice. I wish I could pull my husband Shaun aside to weigh in on these for you too, because he is more of a business expert than I, but here are my answers given honestly from the “artist’s” perspective. I think they are very important topics when anyone has the wonderful opportunity to start up their own business these days. It’s important to know what you’re getting into, and be prepared to do some math!
From Betty: I would also like to know how you did the step from photography as a hobby (while being a teacher) to photographing for living and what setup you started off with. What are must have’s and what do you think are classic problems to overcome at the beginning? Many thanks.
Believe it or not, I never in a million years intended to own a photography studio. As a teacher, I did take portraits on the side for fun. I always wanted to do more with my own artwork and often thought about going into graphic design. So when I started out taking photography jobs, my intention was really just to maybe make a little grocery money (totally cliche, I know). My business took off on it’s own, mostly through referrals, and I was stumbling to keep up with it. Because I never set out to be a portrait studio, I really didn’t start off with a strong business plan. In the past 3 years of rapid growth, I’ve learned that I would have saved a lot of sleepless nights having had treated it like a business first. My first recommendation is to open a business account and keep all business money and spending separate. My husband was a banker, so he made sure I did that before I even took my first official photo. Register your business with the state and insure yourself and your equipment. I was good up until this point, and next is where I wish I had done things differently! Figure out what your monthly overhead will be for business expenses, equipment maintenance, storage needs, website hosting etc. Then determine how many hours you will need to put into each session for shooting and editing and how many sessions you can feasibly handle each month. Don’t forget to allot time for session sales, meeting with clients, continued marketing, order consultations, order design and fulfillment, packaging and shipping etc. Those are all time consuming things that go into each and every session on the back end. Calculate what travel and gas will cost too. Join PPA and take advantage of their business and pricing models. They have some very useful formulas for calculating the cost of what goes into a single print, and no, it isn’t just the cost of the paper! Every business has a different operating cost depending on overhead and number of employees, but sorting all of it out and determining what you need to make for each session in order to pay yourself at least minimum wage is the absolute best advice I can give you when starting out. There are lots of amazing photographers who go out of business (in fact I remember reading a statistic when I was starting out that said 80% of photographers are out of business within 2 years, and 90% within 4 years) because they don’t pay attention to the business as much as they pay attention to the pictures. I also know MANY moms who have started businesses of all sorts to make a little cash on the side while they are home with their kids. Every single one of them has remarked to me at one time or another, “I never imagined how much work this would be, I never even see my kids anymore!” I remember feeling like that for a while until Shaun and I made an effort to pay attention to the business first and foremost. Making a living at anything on your own takes a lot of long hours with little pay, especially in the first few years.
As for what set up I started with, I had a my Nikon d700 with a 24-70mm lens and a portable backdrop stand. I borrowed the money from my mom and my plan was to pay it back in the first year. I paid it all back after 2 months in business :0) I started right off with newborn photography so I also had a bean bag from target and some neutral blankets that I traveled to clients houses with. That was it! Over the years I’ve gradually added to my props and equipment as my finances have allowed. Shaun keeps me on a tight budget!
From Jess: I really want to start my own business (not even remotely artistic-related) but am concerned about finances. Did you have a lot of start-up capital? How did you build Heidi Hope Photography into what it is today? Were strategic alliances with other complementary businesses (like Sweet Indulgence) something you planned on or did it just fall into place? Thank you!
Yikes! This is the wrong answer, but I had no start up capital. Like I said above though, I would do things differently with hindsight. I borrowed the money from my mom to buy my camera and my goal was just to pay it back in the first year. I was on maternity leave from teaching, and wasn’t reliant on the income. I expanded my business only as the demand presented itself. Once I was making enough money each month to pay myself and clear rent, and had 5 months of solid bookings up ahead, I knew it was time to open a studio to save on traveling time and expense and take on more clients. I would have never opened a studio without already having a steady income that cleared the overhead. Once we got to the point where we were turning business away because our hands were full, we knew it was time to hire an employee, and then two. I never grew the business in any respect until I already had the demand… except in the case of buying my first camera! The business often led and I followed. I did spend a lot of time building my web presence through blogging and social media which I think is a huge reason we grew so fast. You can have great work or a great product, but if you can’t market it, and no one sees it, it will never be a profitable business. To be honest, I don’t have a ton of business alliances besides Sweet Indulgence. My mom actually introduced us and we loved each-others work and style, so it was a perfect match. Plus we are right up the street from each other, and both have young families, so it is an easy relationship! I would love to have more relationships with small businesses, but that takes time to build and nurture and usually I’m juggling shooting a sold out studio schedule and my family and it doesn’t leave much time for networking. I do think networking is more important in some businesses than others. For example, vendors in the wedding industry do a ton of networking with each other because much of the business is referral based. If you have the time to do it, go introduce yourself and your work and see if you click. If we ever slow down I will surely be out there introducing myself to other business owners!
From Jeanne: Suggestions on setting up the best indoor natural light studio..as many details as possible. Also, actions or photoshop tips to create that light and airy feel.
Ok, two parts here. Both loaded questions!
First, for the studio, there is so much personal preference in setting up the space where you create and display your work. The #1, most important factor for a natural light studio is THE LIGHT. I think most of you would laugh if you saw where our studio is. I’m wedged between a Chineese food resturaunt and an old-school hair salon. Between perms and eggrolls, we never know what we’re smelling. We have a space much too small for us and all of our props. The place used to be a Curves Gym with purple carpets and pink walls. The bathroom is smaller than an average closet. I’m not trying to throw our studio under the bus or anything, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert in setting up a studio. I still have a dream to save up for a gorgeous stand-alone studio on a beautiful wooded lot with a laundry list of amenities…. but that’s a long way away! What I’m saying is that the space you set up doesn’t matter much at all to your final product except that you MUST have good light.
We have south facing windows that have a white film on them to diffuse the light. We get great direct light all day that I can soften with the film and white curtains if neccessary. So the light is number one. After that, get yourself a backdrop stand, some rolls of paper or cloth backdrops, a reflector, and you’re good to go in my opinion! That is truly all I started with. Props and decor are all to taste of course, and I gathered all of my chairs and baskets over the years as I found them. I think it’s important to have samples of your work and products on hand to show clients when they come in. Here’s two quick shots of my shooting room which is around 300 square feet, taken last January with a wide-angle lens.
As for photoshop tips, I’m sorry to say this is one thing I can’t answer in a single blog post. I’ve spent years teaching and learning photoshop. My style of processing is constantly changing (I’m sure much to the dismay of my editor who I probably drive nuts saying “I tried this thing out today and I think it looks really cool!”). There is no easy answer. Sometimes I look at another photographer and think “I wish I knew how they did that” too. I’ve had other photographers take a full day photoshop workshop with me and they almost always want me to offer a part 2 and part 3 because they could just keep learning more. You have to practice and practice and develop your own style. Take some photoshop workshops or classes at a community college. The more you know the program by heart, the more tools you’ll have at your fingertips to achieve the look you envision. One thing that does help with that light, airy look is shooting manually, slightly overexposing and increasing the midtones through levels and curves in photoshop. I do that to almost every image. Shooting with soft even light on your subject is also very important. I have every possible action out there. Name it and I probably have it. I play with them all constantly for my own fun and sometimes they look good, sometimes they don’t. When I’m in the mood for one, I apply it at an extremely low opacity and tweak each layer so that it fits the particular image I’m working on. Lately I’ve been playing with Oh So Posh actions on my outdoor work and love the vibrant colors! Here’s a before and after with her actions lightly applied on top of my usual editing:
From Jamie : Which MacBook Pro is best for what we do but reasonably (if there is such a thing) priced Lots of photoshop editing and running actions – need something quick!
I bought a MacBook Pro over 6 years ago, and I no longer use it, so I’m definitely not a great resource for that! I’m sorry!
From many people: How do you ensure such a sharp, clear focus on the eyes? Do you have a favorite setting? How do you get those eyes looking so crystal and shiny?
I somewhat answered this last week, but I know no one believes me!! It is all about light and focus. I manually focus much of the time and I usually shoot around f/2 for a shallow depth of field. It’s also important to get a catch light in the subject’s eyes for that sparkle. I’ll copy some of what I explained last week along with an example to prove to you that I’m telling the truth! This is an image that was handy on my desktop from a session 2 weeks ago.
This image was a bit noisy at 100% because it was shot at ISO 500, f/2.2, 1/400s with my 50mm 1.4 lens. I wanted to keep the shutter speed as fast as I could and not shoot completely wide open because this little girl was 1 and all over exploring the studio! Also, my light changes as clouds roll over and I expose manually so the SOOC was slightly dark and I increased the exposure a bit in ACR as shown in the SOOC version above… also contributing to noise. You’ll notice that my edited version is actually LESS sharp than straight out of camera (sooc) because I ran a noise reduction filter and softened the blacks a bit. Also, the top is a screen shot of the RAW (uncompressed) and the final is a screen shot of the JPEG (compressed) which also causes some loss. The point in showing you these is to say “SEE, you have to have sharp eyes to begin with!” To edit this image I reduced noise, recovered the highlights, played with color balance to reduce yellow, increased the midtones (which lightens the iris slightly) with levels, reduced the skin saturation with selective color, retouched the skin and ran an unsharp mask filter to bring some sharpness back after reducing noise. Another trick I sometimes use is to burn back the lash line if the contrast becomes washed out due to the midtone adjustment.
Here is more information on achieving sharp eyes from last week:
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 using the unsharp mask filter and layer masks.
From Annemarie: When you first started out did your business grow mainly from word of mouth or a specific way of advertising?
I didn’t pay $1 in advertising until my 2nd year in business. The first year was solely my website and word of mouth/referrals. Now we do a few select print ads, but I still think that building your web presence through social media and blogging is the most valuable use of your resources. Now the majority of our business is from return clients, referrals from clients, and people who find our website on google.
I hope you all found these answers helpful! I won’t be doing one of these posts next week because my schedule is too tight but will continue to take questions on facebook for the post the following week, so head on over and visit us there :0) Have a great week and happy shooting (and number-crunching)!
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!