This post also could have been called, "Sarah, stop being so effortlessly photogenic." Having borrowed a Sigma 50mm 1.4 to test it out, and itching to shoot despite having cancelled (due to a triple-digit forecast) a hair and makeup portfolio shoot, I got Sarah to do some early-morning modeling for me. I like that I have downtown Newhall just a few blocks away and chock full of great, weathered backdrops.
When all was said and done, I liked the lens. Like any photog, I'd take the Canon 50mm 1.2 gladly, but I'd rather spend $300 and change on the Sigma vs. $1,200 on the Canon.
There's very little margin for error when shooting wide open at 1.4, but when the images are in focus they're absolutely engaging.
Enough talk. More pictures. (see captions below images for some technique discussion.)
Sometimes, great locations are right outside the back door. This was not the first time I'd shot in my backyard; in fact, about a year ago I did an entire session there with Sarah. But I didn't really notice this particular composition until the other day, taking note of the lines and how the sunlight and shadows fell. A well-placed gold reflector provided a little bit of fill light.
This is a location two blocks away from my house. I've wanted to shoot there for some time, and this isn't the exact image I have in my head but it'll do for now. Wide aperture, and existing light. That's all.
Even if you're still shooting with a point-and-shoot camera, a reflector is a game-changer. I placed Sarah in a bit of shade, with a bit of sunlight for backlighting, and plenty of fill light from a gold reflector. Much more natural than using flash for fill. I've gotten pretty good at holding a reflector while shooting, but this was one of those cases where I needed an assistant.
When you're shooting on location, always pay attention to your surroundings. This image was shot in a small alcove of greenery along a dirty alley lined by a rusty chain-link fence. The background was shady but backlit, and I used a gold reflector for some fill light. Shooting wide open keeps the background nice and soft.
Once again, an example of letting the sun provide the backlighting and using a reflector to provide fill light.
Having your model pose in direct light, even if it's through a diffuser, can get a bit squinty. That said, look at the light here. Nice and soft. Direct sunlight through a diffuser.
Sometimes the keepers are the ones you don't plan for. I hadn't quite posed the image yet, but while I was getting my settings right I captured Sarah looking perfectly casual. A wide aperture with existing light.
Shooting outside doesn't mean you can't get a studio look now and then. My version of Hollywood glamour came courtesy of a doorway on the shady side of the street, a super-wide aperture and off-camera flash fired from above. Bazinga.
The right image isn't always technically perfect. Her eyes aren't in focus, her hair is. It drove me nuts at first, but I could not get away from this image. That light bouncing off a nearby window lent such a warm emotion to the photo. That's what I value: an emotional image, even if it's not "perfect." Don't be afraid of mistakes and flaws. Learn to give them a second look.
Again, an image that's a touch out of focus in the wrong place (if anything's sharp and in focus, make it your subject's eyes) but the image as a whole is still engaging.
This and the next image are a case study in paying attention. As much as I've walked around downtown Newhall, I'd never before noticed this white metal grating that makes for an interesting yet unobtrusive backdrop. It was the shady side of the building, so a reflector in the right place provided some great fill.
If you buy a reflector, get a 3-in-1. Mine is a collapsible 36" with a gold side, that can be reversed to a silver side, or removed altogether so you have a nice big diffuser perfect for softening harsh direct light. In this case, I used the silver side, providing a nice, cool fill light.
Some photographers are hesitant to talk about technique. I have no problem with it, particularly since, to be honest, I have no super-complicated tricks up my sleeve. If you're serious about getting better at photography, the best way is to keep practicing. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes to look for the light (and ways to control it), look for interesting backgrounds and how to pose your subject. (I lucked out on this shoot, because Sarah basically can stand in front of a camera and know what I'm going to ask (or come up with something better) before I ask it.