style

Using your lens’ bokeh as a design element

In previous articles we could see how a fast 85mm can be used for shallow depth-of-field to shoot nearly anywhere by melting away the background. There’s another aspect to this – the bokeh of the lens. The bokeh is a reference to how the quality of the background blur is rendered by a lens. It can be smooth, or have “jittery” patterns to the edges of objects, and the highlights.

Do note though that bokeh and shallow depth-of-field are not quite the same thing. While the DoF / choice of aperture does affect the appearance of the bokeh of a lens, the shallow depth-of-field look isn’t “bokeh”. Similarly, you can’t do something like “add more bokeh”. Bokeh is the quality of that background blur. It’s mostly an aspect of the lens design.

Now, very often, when a fast prime lens is used wide open, there’s a kind of swirly feel to the background blur – and if you’re aware of this, and find an appropriate background, it can really accentuate the portrait.

The image at the top of Jen & Corby, was shot at f/1.4 and you can see how the background behind them has a distinctive circular swirl to the out of focus high-lights.

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adapting your photographic style during a shoot

I had the pleasure of photographing Rebecca and Max’s elopement wedding in New York. They’re both from Denmark. (Actually, Max is from Spain originally.) They both planned to get married in New York while over on a trip here. I met up with them at City Hall on the day, where I was the witness to their wedding ceremony. That’s quite an honor too. Then, after the ceremony, we ventured out into Manhattan for an extended photo session.

And this is where there is a certain balance that I need to maintain. If I have a specific style in photographing on-location portraits, it is one of simplicity.

The straight-forward recipe is to make my subject(s) the center of the image by:
– careful composition,
– minimizing extraneous clutter,
– eliminating distracting backgrounds,
– compressing the perspective with a long lens,
– by using a wide aperture on a tele-zoom for shallow depth-of-field.

Great. This works well when the area that we’re photographing our subject in, is just something to have as an interesting, but non-specific background. The background might even be defocused so you can’t really tell where it was. Now, when the location is very much part of what is happening, then as a photographer we need to definitely include the location as part of a “character” in this story. I recently did it with the father and son portrait in Times Square.

And so it is with a wedding taking place in New York, where New York was very specifically chosen as an exotic destination. The photographs of Rebecca and Max had to show a wide range – from the more specifically portrait-like images, to photos which show the city they are in. But I also wanted to avoid a cookie-cutter touristy thing where we move from landmark to landmark and just have them pose in front of things and buildings.

I still wanted to show how they interact with each other. For me, wedding photography, and photography of couples, should be about how they interact with each other. It should reveal something very much *them* along the way.

So there’s the challenge – to take photographs of the couple in Manhattan, and have the range of photos – from elegantly simple portraits, all the way to showing them against the backdrop of the busy city. And yet, not have that same busy-ness intruding, and distracting attention away from them when their family and friends look at the photos.

Let’s run through some of the images and look at the thought-process behind them …

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the flow of a photo session

November 28, 2011

the flow of a photo session

Laura and Todd is a couple whose wedding I’m photographing next year. We met up last weekend in Manhattan for the engagement photo session. I really like doing these because it gives the photographer a chance to connect with the couple before the wedding, and get an idea of what kind of rhythm would be possible in photographing them.

In the recent article, turning day into night, I described the thought-process of a photo sequence. Starting with an idea, we worked up to a photo that looked impressive. So that entails a few test shots, including one to show the couple what we’re trying to achieve. Then we finesse it.

That’s the usual process when coming up with ideas – it’s a succession of photos, changing things up a bit until we have a few images that look really good and show the couple at their best.

But sometimes, the idea doesn’t work …

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finding that photo opportunity

November 24, 2011

finding that photo opportunity

We stumbled upon this opportunity for this portrait of Jessica, my infamous assistant with an attitude. The reception room for a wedding we were photographing had several large boxes of lights against the walls as a kind of light mural, with baubles inside that were lit up. And the back of each of these displays was a mirror …

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wedding photography – when technique, style & choice of equipment converge

With Manhattan as a back-drop, I wanted a cinematic look for the photograph of Nima and Peter. A magnificent view behind them as they snuggle in. While I approach wedding photography with my eye on telling the story of the day, for me, where a photographer really reveals a specific style, is in the portraits of the bride and groom.

I wanted a romantic look to this sequence of images, so there were specific choices to be made in terms of equipment, camera settings and the lighting. So let’s run through the thought-process.

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camera settings: 1/50 @ f8 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm;  available light

shooting promotional photos for a band

Anyone who knows me well is probably very aware that my first true love is music. I live my life to a music soundtrack. There’s always music playing. Not the radio, but music of my own choice. I love music … however, my sense of rhythm isn’t all that it should’ve been for me to be a natural muso. But still, I love music. All of which meant that one few non-negotiable rules for my daughter was that she had to take music lessons. So she plays bari sax in the high-school’s Jazz band, and she’s also been taking guitar lessons for a few years now with a guitar teacher, Gerard.

All of which brings us to this photo session – promotional photos of Gerard’s band. That is Gerard (right) and Ed (center : piano) and Joe (left : guitar). I met up this weekend with them in Hoboken. Perfect for the urban feel to the photos. Hanging out with them for a few hours coming up with ideas and places for photos, was great fun. The camaraderie between them will be familiar to anyone who has ever played in a band. You connect. That all too short time I played tenor sax in a rock band back in South Africa circa 1999, just before we emigrated to the USA, was one of the best times in my life. But I digress. It was cool to hang out with these three musicians for the afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite images, with some details  …

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wedding photography – developing a personal style

I’ve been mulling a while now over a question someone asked me about how long I think it took to develop a personal style in photography.

“What does it take, and how many years do you think it generally takes a photographer to develop their own personal style, meaning, you can look at a photograph and know who took it. Not everyone would know, but some people could tell it’s your style. I think very few photographers actually have their own style and I’m curious what you think it took to get there.”

How long do I think it takes? A life-time. But that’s too glib an answer, even though I think it is a never-ending journey as a photographer – honing your style along with your technique, understanding and skill. So how does one develop a personal style in photography?

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to use available light is not a random thing

Since I often use flash or additional light, there was some surprise in the (favorable) comments in the Facebook album when I mentioned this photo was shot without any flash. Not even fill-flash. Just the available light. But where I posed the bride, was a specific decision. It wasn’t just random.

Now, I often get the feeling that when someone boasts they only use available light, that it is meant to disguise that they don’t know how to use additional lighting. My thought here is that unless you find yourself in great light, or alternately position your subject so that the light works in your favor … you’re very likely to find that the available light just isn’t as flattering as it could be. Ultimately, this comes down to the point that using light – whether found (ambient) light, or light added by the photographer – is best as a conscious decision by the photographer.

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inspiration from movies – a visual feast for photographers

It would be a rare photographer – in a fact a rare person – who isn’t fascinated by other forms of art, whether music, dance, various visual arts, architecture and everything we surround ourselves with. I just can’t imagine a photographer not finding inspiration specifically in other visual art forms, whether cartoons & graphic novels, all the way to the classic painters … and of course, movies.

Last night we watched Micmacs, another of the surreal hyper-kinetic movies by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Every frame of that movie is a beautifully composed. A work of art. Afterwards I felt that push again that I need to be more creative with my photography.

Micmacs was released in 2010, but before investigating that movie, I’d have to urge you to first watch Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterpiece – Amelie.

The screen-capture at the top is from Amelie. No words can quite describe what a joy ride of a movie it is. Emotionally over-powering. Exhilirating! With that, I’d also like to mention 10 other movies, all personal favorites, that are visual feasts for photographers …

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using on-camera bounce flash outdoors

With wedding photography, when doing the night-time romantic portraits of the couple, the pressure is usually on. The only opportunity to whisk the couple away for a few minutes, is during dinner time, when the party is at a lull. The pressure is on because you have even less time than you had during the earlier part of the day, and you also don’t want to lose the attention of your couple who wants to get back to their guests at the reception.

I usually scout a few places before-hand, getting a clear idea of what I want. When setting out with the couple, I rely on bounce flash and on video light. There is rarely time for carrying around a soft-box. You need to move fast, set up fast … and still come up with the goods.

With this wedding from the past weekend, I wanted to capture two specific portraits of the couple with the outside of the venue as a backdrop. I would normally have used video light here, but I had the idea that I wanted the compression from a longer lens … the 70-200mm f2.8 … and then the person holding the video light would be in shot. So the solution was to get flash in there. Where we were working outside there, I fortunately had part of the building to bounce my flash off.

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