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Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Portrait Photography

Over the past eight years of shooting weddings, I have slowly evolved in how I work. I believe that’s normal for most photographers. Most will start as “natural light” photographers. I actually began a little ahead and was using one on-camera flash, bouncing it off of the ceiling. Next, I dabbled in some off-camera flash very lightly and steadily grew my skills over the years.

I will say, that life is so much easier for me now, and I can create so much more with off-camera flash than I could when I began. I’m not sure where you are in your journey, but I’m here to help you speed up the process. In this article, I’m going to share all of my different off-camera lighting setups for weddings.

Off camera flash weddings 02

Use flash when needed

Let me start off by saying that I don’t use off-camera flash the entire day. I still use natural light when I need to and I’ll use on-camera bounce flash when that’s appropriate. These on and off-camera flashes are just tools that I use to create, just like a painter uses different brushes and paints. I can’t necessarily tell you when to use them; that’s up to you and your personal preference. My suggestion would be to keep an open mind, practice these ideas, and see what works best for you.

Photographing details

I start using off-camera flash pretty early in the wedding day when I’m shooting details. For most situations, I try to keep it simple and use one flash at a 45-degree angle to the subject. To keep light from going everywhere and to create a more dramatic photo, I usually use a MagGrid from MagMod.

Off camera flash weddings 01

I’ll use this setup for ring shots, a few of the dress, flowers, possibly shoes, and other details. It works really well for the ring shot because I’m usually shooting at such a high aperture that I need a lot of light. I also make sure to take some with natural light or a bounce flash just in case the couple doesn’t like the dramatic look.

Off-camera flash for portraits

The newest way I’ve been using off-camera flash, and I just love it so much, is for creating portraits. If you really want to create something cool and different for your clients, this is the way to do it. There are many ways to do this (too many to mention here), but I’ll share some of my favorite setups.

Off-camera flash setups for wedding portraits

The groom usually doesn’t get much attention on the wedding day. He is just along for the ride. I try, though, to give him the spotlight and create something fun. This setup is basically the same as the detail shot. I’ll use one single flash with a MagGrid. The big difference is I lower the ambient light so the flash is really all that is seen.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

One light dramatic setup for the groom.

To do this, start off without the flash. Adjust the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture until the photo is pretty dark. Then, bring in the flash. Try to position the off-camera flash at a 45 degree angle, in relatively close to the subject. The further away the light is the more it will spread. I try to keep most of the focus on his face.

Another fun trick is to do this with all the groomsmen and put it together later in Photoshop. I did this recently with a group that all had super hero shirts under their suits. It created a very dramatic, fun photo. All you have to do is move your flash to one person, take a photo, and then move to the next one. Either put the camera on a tripod or try to keep it in the same position and height. Then, later, you just line them all up and use layers to hide and reveal the parts you want.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

The bride and her dress

The bride is the star of the show, so you need to make sure you create lots of photos of her and the dress. I will usually spend twice as much time with the bride as I do the groom. I also use a few different lighting patterns with her to give her more variety.

I don’t do it often, but you can actually use the same lighting setup that we did for the groom, with the bride. It’s going to create a dark portrait, but one thing I do differently is I make sure there aren’t any crazy shadows on her face.

Sometimes I have the bride turn her head toward the light or I rotate the flash more to light her entire face. It’s good to try this out occasionally, but make sure you give her some other options.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

Grid for Bride Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

One flash dramatic lighting setup.

In most cases, I use a much softer light with the brides, to open up shadows instead of creating something dark. I use my small flashes for some situations, but when we are outside I usually go to my larger flash, the Xplor 600. This gives me more power and I can put a softbox or octabox on it to soften the light.

My go-to bride setup is to put the sun behind the bride and then light the front of her. A lot of wedding photographers will do it this way without adding the light to the front. This can work, but you are left with a blown out background and possibly deep shadows in the eyes.

With my lighting setup, you can have the background exposed correctly and remove those nasty shadows. I still place the flash at a 45 degree angle but there are a few other things that make the photo look completely different. One, using a softbox or Octabox softens the light and allows it to illuminate most of the subject while the MagGrid kept the light pretty hard and focused.

One flash off-camera balanced with natural light.


Also, the exposure is going to be different. Turn off the flash and get a proper exposure for the background instead of it being pitch black. Then, turn the flash back on to light your subject and adjust power as needed. As far as setting the background exposure, I prefer bumping up the shutter speed versus bumping up the aperture. You can only do this, though, if your flash can do high-speed sync.

Off-camera flash setups for group photos

Another tough situation to light is the family portrait setup. If we are outside that isn’t really a problem, but if we’re indoors, the light is usually pretty bad. To keep everyone in focus, I also use a smaller aperture, which just makes matters worse.

I’ve used a few different off-camera flash setups for family portraits, and honestly, I’m not sure which I prefer. If you only have one flash, I’d put it at about a 30-degree angle.

If you have two flashes, there are two different ways to set it up. You can put both flashes, at equal power, at opposite 45 degree angles. This will cover everything, but it can make some weird shadows. The other option is to keep one light at 45 degrees and bring the other closer to the camera and lower the power. This is the basic main light and fill light setup.

Family portrait Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

Family portrait lighting with two flashes.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

The problem I’ve run into with this is that the people further away from the main light don’t get as much light. The last thing to consider is whether to bounce it or use direct flash. Bouncing is going to create a more even lighting, but it uses more power and doesn’t work if the ceilings are dark or if you’re outside. Direct flash takes less power, but the light tends to be harsher and create darker shadows.

Sometimes I will try one setup and then quickly switch to another if things aren’t working. You might find yourself doing this as well.

Off-camera flash at the wedding reception

Creating lighting for the dance is one of my favorite things to do. You really can create some amazing shots. My general setup is two off-camera flash, opposite each other, with MagGrids attached. This really creates a moody effect, but you can get some dark shadows.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

Dance lighting setup, two flashes.

With this setup, I keep a flash on top of my camera, and sometimes I’ll use it to bounce some fill light into the scene. When I’m done with the first few dances and the big groups get out there, I remove the grids so the light will cover a larger area. As far as my position, you can move around with this light setup and get some really different looks. For the most part, I try to keep one light beside me at a 45-degree.

One quick warning: make sure your lights are secure and out of the way. People will run into them and knock them over, and you don’t want broken equipment and/or injuries and a potential lawsuit.

Off-camera flash for creative wedding portraits

The last scenario that I use off-camera flash at weddings is for doing creative portraits with the couple. I really enjoy taking them away from the action once it has gotten dark to create something special. These are more of a creative, artsy portrait, and they are often my favorite shots from the wedding day.

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

Two-light backlit setup with blue gel on the background.

The possibilities are pretty endless with this, so I’m just going to run through how I do it in general. The first thing I do is find an interesting background. This could be the front of the venue or some place with an interesting structure and hopefully some kind of lights. Next, I figure out where I want to place the couple. I like to have them be part of the environment, so I position them where I can do a full length shot and still capture the background.

Now we are ready to figure out the off-camera lighting setup. My go-to setup is a front light at 45 degrees with a grid and another flash behind the subject. With the backlight, I’ll either have the light aimed at the couple to give them a glow, or I’ll aim it at the background to show off the structure more. If you want to get a little funky or artsy, throw a colored gel on the backlight. After I’ve done that, I usually remove the front light and just aim the backlight at them and make a silhouette. If you know what you’re doing, you should be able to pull these shots off in less than 10 minutes and send the couple back to the party.

Off camera flash weddings 05

Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings

One light backlit setup.


I know that was a lot of information and you may be overwhelmed. If you are feeling confused, reread each section and look at the diagrams. If you’re still confused, feel free to comment, and I’ll help you out.

Also, don’t feel like you have to try all of these setups at once. Remember, weddings are a once in a lifetime event, so avoid going in there if you aren’t confident in what you are doing. Practice at home and start by trying one of these setups. Practice some more and then try out other setups. Do this for one year and at the end of that year, I bet you’ll be in a whole new level, and you’ll never go back to your old way of shooting weddings.

The post Tips for Using Off-Camera Flash at Weddings by Bryan Striegler appeared first on Digital Photography School.


4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Over the past four years as my wife and I have done more family photography we have learned quite a bit. Going through some of those early shots I’m sometimes amazed that anyone paid us money for them at all! Self-reflection is critical not just for photographers, but any artist and indeed anyone who wants to improve at a given skill over time. In thinking about what has worked and what hasn’t worked I repeatedly noticed four key elements that I wanted to share with you. Hopefully, these will be useful to you if you are just starting out as a family portrait photographer, and you won’t have to make the same mistakes I did as I was learning them!

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

1. Location, location, location

I live in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and there’s a spot in the middle of our town that a lot of people think is the ideal location for photography. It’s called Theta Pond and sits in the heart of the campus of our very own Oklahoma State University.

When you go there for an afternoon stroll it’s almost impossible not to be taken in by the beautiful flowers, towering trees, and flocks of waterfowl that dot the serene landscape. There are stone paths, wooden bridges, and several fountains sending water high into the air. They all combine to create a scene which practically screams “Do your family portrait photography here!” So a lot of people do just that, and it’s how I started out as well.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

You might think a location like this would be ideal for family photos. But you’d be wrong.

Your town probably has a Theta Pond too; a park, garden, waterway, or another setting that seems like it has been tailor-made for capturing poster-size prints of happy families with cute kids. However, if your town is anything like mine, your Theta Pond is probably one of the last places you really want to shoot.

Great for a picnic, not always optimal for portrait sessions

While locations like these are ideal for getting out and enjoying nature, they are often plagued by a host of other issues that make it quite difficult for taking good pictures. There’s traffic whizzing by in the background, people walking around and getting in the way of your shots, and trash bins and informational signs scattered all about. And then there’s the matter of all those ducks and geese you’ll find at just about any pond, lake, or river. You might think they’re fun to have around but they leave some nasty messes behind that can stain jeans and ruin dresses if you ever want your clients to sit on the ground.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

The kids look great in this photo, but there are way too many distractions in the background including a person walking through the frame between the boys. I actually gave this shot to a client and even though she liked it, I have since learned that I prefer to go to other locations for photo sessions.

When I started getting more serious with family portrait photography I began looking at other places besides just what was popular, and found that a whole new world of opportunities opened up for me. I found places off the beaten path that were much more convenient for me and my clients to meet, much less crowded, and often just as scenic and pretty.

Your subjects take priority over the background

Also, it’s important that you find locations which complement your subjects and don’t distract the viewers. The local botanical garden might seem like a great place for a photo session. But you may end up taking your viewers’ attention away from the people and putting it on the plants and flowers by accident. Nowadays I like simple groves of trees, empty fields, or old barns and farm settings that aren’t flashy but make for great photography. Wherever you shoot your photos, choose your locations intentionally such that they fit your photography and your subjects, not just because a friend thinks it would be pretty.

Wherever you shoot your family portrait photography, choose your locations intentionally such that they fit your style and your subjects, not just because a friend thinks it would be pretty.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

This location may not be as flashy, fancy, or popular as a park with fountains, but that’s exactly why I like it so much for photography sessions.

2. There’s no substitute for good lighting

This second rule works in tandem with the first regarding location. Wherever you choose to do your photo sessions, you need to make sure to pay attention to lighting. Great photographers can wrest beautiful images from the most challenging lighting conditions. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it’s essential to stick to the fundamentals. For family sessions that usually comes down to two basic tips: be careful when shooting in broad daylight, and make sure your subjects are evenly lit.

Avoid direct sunlight

Bright sunlight is, contrary to what some beginning photographers may think, far from ideal in terms of taking good photos of people. The harsh overhead lighting often creates shadows, causes people to squint, and results in uneven lighting across the entire frame with some parts of a picture being very bright and others ending up quite dark. You don’t want Grandma looking perfect while Grandpa is squinting to keep the sun out of his eyes, or bright patches of light showing up on shirts and ruining haircuts.

Use even diffused light

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to make sure your subjects are well-lit even if you are shooting at high noon, as long as you are aware of your surroundings and use the elements to your advantage. Look for buildings that cast nice long shadows, overhangs that you can stand beneath, or even trees that block out a lot of the sun and allow for nice even lighting.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

I had this family sit in a park shelter to combat the harsh overhead sun. They’re evenly lit and properly exposed, which is what really mattered to me when taking the shot.

You can also use accessories like a diffusion panel to cast a pleasing shadow on your subjects which help mitigate the effects of harsh, bright sunlight.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

These videographers are using a diffusion panel to make sure their subject is evenly lit, despite the harsh overhead sunlight. The background will be overexposed, but that’s fine because the person being filmed is going to look fantastic.

Shoot at golden hour

Another option is to forego the afternoon hours entirely and shoot photos during what’s known as the golden hour. This generally starts about an hour prior to sunset (or from sunrise to an hour after) but can vary depending on your exact location.

During this short window of time, the sun is low on the horizon and it bathes your scene in a rich, warm light that is amazing for portraits. You can have your subjects stand almost anywhere and face any direction, or ask them to face the sun which will make their eyes sparkle nice and bright. Everything looks so rich and beautiful during this time, but it passes quickly so make sure to use your time wisely and work efficiently to get the shots you want.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

I shot this as the sun was setting which resulted in rich, deep colors. I also put these kids in the shadow of a tree to make sure they were evenly lit, which resulted in a pleasing picture overall.

The message that I hope I’m conveying here is that there’s just no substitute for good lighting. I didn’t touch on things like off-camera flash which can also be used to manipulate the light in a scene. But if you’re looking to get started with family, child, or senior portraits one of the best things you can do is use the tools you already have to make sure your subjects are evenly lit and properly exposed.

You can fix a lot of things in Lightroom and Photoshop afterward, but poor lighting isn’t really one of them.

3. Know your camera settings and how to change them

There’s an old Greek amorphism, gnothi seauton, which has been the basis for countless philosophical discussions over the ages. Roughly translated, it means know thyself and often functions as an exhortation for an individual to be intimately aware of who they are, what makes them tick, what their goals in life are, etc.

Even in the most controlled studio environment, things can change at a moment’s notice, and often there isn’t much you can do about it. So it’s important to know your camera settings and how to change them if you need to fast.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

Your camera might have so many buttons and menu options that it seems overwhelming. It’s good to figure out how they work on your own time, not when you’re on location with clients.

It’s not enough to simply know about fundamentals like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO when you are doing formal photo sessions. You need to know how to control these parameters on your camera and when to change them if you need to in a hurry. The former comes from reading your manual, looking at articles online like the ones we have here at dPS, and a lot of experimentation. The latter often comes only from years of experience.

Get up to speed with your camera on your own time

I’m a big proponent of poring over your camera’s manual. But when you’re on location with clients that is not the time to try and figure out how to use your exposure compensation button or in which menu the auto-ISO setting is buried. You need to be intimately familiar with how to access and alter the settings on your camera in order to get the shots you want and deal with conditions as things change.

One of my favorite tricks to help learn the camera better is to do a practice session with a friend or family member. Go out to a location and make sure you know how to adjust various camera settings on the fly. Then tell your helper to try something you aren’t expecting which could require a faster shutter, higher ISO, etc. Practice changing your camera settings in this type of environment before you go out with clients, so when the unexpected happens you’re as ready as you can possibly be to deal with it in the moment.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

Remember that Theta Pond example from earlier? When this moment came up during that same session I was able to think on my feet and quickly adjust my aperture and ISO to get this impromptu headshot which the boy’s mom really liked.

4. Make the experience memorable

One of the most important aspects of doing a photo session for clients is that it’s about much more than the end product. Wells, Valacich, and Hess (2011) found that the quality of a website is related to the perception of quality regarding the products being sold on the website. A higher-quality website, their data tended to show, meant that consumers perceived the things they were buying as being higher quality than the same products purchased from lower-quality websites.

The same holds true for photography, in that how your clients view the final photos you deliver to them is directly related to how they feel about the session itself. If you make the experience fun, enjoyable, and stress-free while engaging your clients in friendly conversation they will be more likely to enjoy, appreciate, and share the pictures when they receive them. Conversely, if your clients get top-notch pictures but you showed up for the session late, unprepared, and stressed-out, then they will likely have a lower opinion of the photographs.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

This family’s dog wandered into the photo shoot totally uninvited. I’m not much of a dog person but I set that aside, went with the flow, and got some shots that the family really liked. It also helped put the kids at ease and so they enjoyed the rest of the session more.

The overall experience is important

To put this in a different context, let’s say you are looking to buy a new microwave. Two stores in town have the one you want at the exact same price. One store has a clean parking lot and interior, bright lights, neat shelves, and friendly employees. The other store has a dirty trash-filled parking lot, dim and flickering lights, haphazard shelves, and employees who will barely give you the time of day. From which store are you likely to purchase the appliance? If you’re like me you’ll go to the first store. Then if your friends are ever looking for a similar appliance you will probably recommend the same store with great enthusiasm. Budding family photographers would do well to remember this concept and apply it to their approach to dealing with clients.

Taking photos is not just about the end product but the whole photographic experience. Make it fun for your clients from the time you first interact with them to when you deliver the final products. Get to know them, and don’t be afraid to show your own personality too. Make the photo session fun and enjoyable, and if there are kids involved, make sure to spend time getting to know their names and finding a bit more about them. (This has a couple of bonus side effects too – parents are thrilled when photographers spend time getting to know their kids, and the children will be more likely to listen to you and follow directions during the session.)

Don’t underestimate the value of providing a good experience

The point is that if your clients enjoy the photo session, they are likely to assign a high perceived level of quality to the end product and will recommend you to their friends, coworkers, and especially their acquaintances on social media.

4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers

This couple invited me into their home for a rather emotional photo session due to a medical condition their daughter has. While I had a job to do as a photographer, that was only a small part of the whole experience.

It’s not your job to be your clients’ best friend, but it is your job to make the photo session something they will remember in a positive light. Do what you can to earn their trust and respect, as this can pay off in many ways long after you deliver the pictures.


One of my biggest weaknesses as a photographer, or even as a person, is that it’s difficult for me to go back and look through things I’ve done in years past. I often find it more than a little embarrassing to read things I’ve written, examine things I’ve built, and look at photographs I’ve taken because I think the work I’m doing now is so much better. Yet in five years I’ll probably dust off a few of the pictures I’m taking now and wonder what in the world I was thinking when I took them!

However, this type of self-reflection is essential for growth in any profession, hobby, or craft. It’s only by learning from our previous experiences and examining our mistakes as well as our successes that we can truly grow and refine our skills.

The four lessons I have detailed in this article are by no means comprehensive, but they are things that have turned out to be extremely important to me over the years and I hope they prove helpful for you also. I’m also curious to hear from you, especially those of you who have been doing family portrait photography for a long time. What are some of the important lessons you have learned over the years? Please share in the comments below and I look forward to reading them.

The post 4 Lessons for Aspiring Family Portrait Photographers by Simon Ringsmuth appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Posing Tips for the Groom on the Wedding Day

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Wedding photography is often thought of as one of the most challenging genres to document. On any given weeding day you need to be a fashion photographer, product, documentary and family photographer all in the space of a few hours. Of these genres, one the hardest aspects to master is photographing the groom pre-wedding while trying to make him feel at ease and relaxed about the experience, while offering posing tips and advice to him.

Posing Tips for the Groom on the Wedding Day Posing Tips for the Groom on the Wedding Day

On the morning of a wedding, have you ever walked into a groom’s house and felt like you could cut tension with a butter knife? Often the groom is nervous knowing that he is about to be the center of attention, so he may find the whole experience daunting and uncomfortable. Your job is to make him feel at home and comfortable so you can create some amazing shots of him for the couple to cherish for years to come.

As a male, I can attest to being nervous about being in front of the camera. So what can you do and say to make your groom, his groomsmen, and family, feel comfortable on the big day? Here are a few general and specific posing tips that will help you break the ice and build some rapport with your groom.

Your approach

Posing groom 03

When you first arrive at the house, walk in without your camera out and do what you would do if you were going out to meet new friends at dinner. Walk in, say hello, introduce yourself, shake hands, and just be nice to everyone. You’d be amazed at how this first simple step will break the ice and help establish rapport.

Remove the groom from the room

If you’re shooting in a house which is full of family and friends it can be somewhat noisy and distracting, especially if you want to create a certain look with your groom. He may be embarrassed or self conscious having photos taken in front of everyone.

Posing Tips for the Groom on the Wedding Day

So when it’s time to photograph him alone it is a good idea to find a quiet space in the house and take him there away from all the distractions. This way you’ll be able to get the kinds of photos you want of him without having to try and silence 10 people who are talking in the background.

Make your groom feel like The Fonz

When it comes to photographing the groom, or any male for that matter, you need to make him feel cool like The Fonz on Happy Days! If you give your groom masculine things to do, you’ll never have issues getting him to cooperate and participate.

Posing groom 01 Posing groom 09

Ask him to sit on a chair and lean forward with a glass of scotch in his hands or lean against a wall with his hands in his pockets while bringing his chest off the wall. What guy wouldn’t feel cool doing that? Once you have his trust, he will do anything you ask. He just needs to feel strong, cool, and confident.

Give him something to do with his hands

Men can sometimes feel and look awkward if they have nothing to do with their hands. So give him something to do with his hands like buttoning up his jacket, holding a glass of whisky, putting his hands in his pockets, holding a hat on the brim or holding his jacket. Whatever you ask him to do just make sure it’s something he would normally do with his hands so it looks natural and unforced.

Posing Tips for the Groom in Wedding Photography

Always show the groom what you want him to do

Explaining what you want your groom or subject to do can sometimes be confusing for them, especially if they’re a visual person. If you want him to sit or look a certain way, show him by doing it yourself first. This method is called mirroring, and 99% of the time you will get what you want after demonstrating how to do it.

Make him laugh

There’s usually a joker in every wedding party or group. So once you find out who he is, give him a few cues and watch him get all the boys laughing naturally without being prompted to do so. This will bring out everyone’s real character.

Posing Tips for the Groom in Wedding Photography


Once you have built trust with the boys, you will see it come through in your photos. Suddenly everything will be real. If you’re not confident posing or directing men, grab a friend and practice on him so when it comes to the real deal you’re 100% confident.

Do you have any other posing tips for working with groom on the wedding day? Please share any tips or questions you have in the comments section below.

The post Posing Tips for the Groom on the Wedding Day by Andrew Szopory appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Maybe by a show of virtual hands, how many of us have ever been in a situation where we have gone to a location for a photoshoot only to find out that something unexpected like a marathon, construction or worse demolition, is going on that prevents you from using the space as you intended? And I am being very serious in the demolition example!

One of my favorite local parks went through a complete revamp a couple of years ago and for months the only thing I could see was demolition equipment all around. The dirt paths that I loved so much had all gone and tar biking paths took their place!

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

The dirt path with the cover of trees in the background was one of my favorite spots in this local park. The light would filter through the trees and the dirt path would act as a natural reflector and bounce golden light back to my subjects! – now this whole area is a parking lot that leads up to the trees!

I am a natural light outdoor photographer for the most part. Hence, I rely on outdoor locations for 75% of my photoshoots including the weddings I photograph. More often than not, my clients, the bride and groom, look to me for suggestions on natural outdoor locations for their bridal portraits and family formals. Even my lifestyle family photo shoot clients love suggestions on the best locations for beautiful family photos especially in the fall when the leaves all change colors. To that end, I am always on the look out for clean, beautiful and unique outdoor locations for my photoshoots.

Here are a few tips on how to scout and find the perfect location for your next photo shoot.

#1 Know your clients

Every client is different and every photoshoot is unique. It behooves us photographers to really get to know our clients so we can tailor the photo shoot to fit their personality. This not only ensures that they will have a good time but also that they will be more relaxed and happy during their photoshoot. This means you will get pictures that they are bound to love and hence recommend you to all their friends and family. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For my wedding clients, I have a formal questionnaire that they fill out to describe their style and that of their wedding. This helps me plan out locations and poses that will reflect their style and personality. For my family photos, I have a conversation with the family to see what type of photos they gravitate towards. Do they want to have fun outside in a park? Or do they want to hang out at home with each other? The family photo session is tailored around their needs.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

My lovely clients wanted a location in nature among the trees. She told me her outfit choices ahead of time so I chose this park with a small waterfall. It seemed to fit their personality and the theme of the shoot ‘The quiet before the storm” quite well.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

This session, on the other hand, took place at my client’s home. During our consultation, she mentioned that she wanted to use her 2.5-acre backyard for photos. I knew the green of the grass and the trees would add a lot of color cast to my subjects so I recommended neutral colored clothing. We also waited until the sun passed behind some clouds to take some of these shots to prevent too much color cast on their faces.

#2 – Scout at different times of the day

When I look at potential locations for my photo shoots, I always try and visit the place at multiple times during the day. This gives me an idea of the lighting at different times. Does the location get direct sunlight or is it shaded and hence gets only directional light? Is it a busy street and with potentially lots of people that might be walking around and getting in my shots? What are the traffic patterns to get to the location? All these little details are really important for me to be able to plan my day and photoshoot so that I can get the best possible pictures in the time I have at the location with my clients.

Tip: If you cannot get to a location ahead of time, use Google maps and sunset/sunrise times to figure out where the sun will be at the time of day you are photographing. This will help you be a little prepared when you get to your location.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

For a bridal editorial shoot at a beautiful historic location, I scouted the location a few days ahead of time and realized that the area where I wanted to photograph was full sun at 2:00pm (on the left)). So I knew that if I moved the photo shoot to the morning, this area would be in the shade and be evenly lit. Sure enough, the light was gorgeous for my editorial photo shoot! Had I not scouted the location, I would have been scrambling to find the right spot in the afternoon.

#3 Pay attention to details

One of the biggest problems that most photographers face is related to light. Not all light is equal and photographing in different lighting conditions will lead to different results.

Early morning light is generally soft and subtle. The afternoon light is often harsh, especially if you place your subject in full sun. Evening light tends to be more warm and golden hue. Post-sunset light is blue. You can photograph in each of these lighting conditions provided you know how to position, pose, and light your subject in each of instance.

Quality of light matters

When scouting a location, pay attention to details around the quality of light at different times of the day. Another thing to keep in mind is color casts from surrounding objects. This is quite prominent around trees, colorful buildings and graffiti walls. Try and find natural reflectors (eg. a white wall) that will bounce light back onto your subjects or use reflectors that do the same thing and balance off the color cast. You can always fix it in post-processing if all else fails.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

A location in historic prairie preserve is a photographer’s favorite in my town. But I find that photographing inside the front patio adds a color cast from the yellow ceilings and directional light (photo on right). Yes, in a pinch I will take the shot and fix it in post-processing. But I prefer to either photograph my clients sitting at the edge of the patio on the steps where they are still in the shade of the patio arch but don’t have any color cast.

Karthika Gupta Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Importance of Location Scouting For a Photoshoot-06

So instead of dealing with the color cast from the porch, I took my client outside along the dirt path by the house and photographed her there. The concrete and the dirt path acted as natural yet neutral reflectors and bounced soft white light back onto her face, eliminating any color casts.

#4 – Tap into other resources

I belong to several photographer groups online and offline and we constantly share tips/tricks and location ideas amongst the groups. These groups exist to help each other out and everyone is open and welcoming. If you are photographing in an area that you are not familiar with, try finding a local photographer group for that region and ask around. Be friendly and genuine in your requests, and you may find some unique and off-the-beaten-path locations from the locals in the area.

#5 – Take a road trip

I love road trips! It is the best way to explore new areas and scout potential photography locations that will suit you and your specific needs. I generally take my family along so it is a fun-for-all experience. In a pinch, my kids will also act as models helping me test the light and background ahead of my client photo shoots.

A few years back I had a high school senior’s photo session and her mom wanted to find a unique spot where we could see the fall colors. I drove around my area for a few hours but was not finding anything that I really liked. I stopped by a local farm to pick up some fresh fruits and realized that the farm had everything I was seeking for my photo shoot. So I walked up to the owner and got permission to photograph there the next day. The senior’s mom got the photos she wanted and I found a unique location for my fall photos.

5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session

The red of the trees does add a little color cast to my subject’s face but she really wanted the backdrop of the fall colors.

What are your tips to find the perfect location for your photos?

The post 5 Tips for Location Scouting Before a Photo Session by Karthika Gupta appeared first on Digital Photography School.


6 Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

One of the most challenging and misunderstood elements in posing hands and how to use them correctly. Hands are so important in an image because they can say so much. They can convey masculinity, femininity, strength, softness and between couples, they can show love and affection.

6 Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

So the big question is what can we do with hands? How can we make them look elegant and soft? Where should they be placed to convey the most realistic emotion and feeling? Here are a few helpful tips and ideas to keep in mind for your next wedding, portrait, or fashion shoot that may help correct the most common hand posing issues.

#1 – Avoid showing the widest part of the hand

To help make hands look elegant, simply avoid having the back of the hand facing towards the camera as that is the widest part of the hand. This is important because the hands in proportion to the subject’s face can make the hands look larger than they actually are, or can make feminine hands look quite masculine. A simple twist of the wrist, so the smallest part of the hand is showing, is all it takes to change the look and feel of an image from average to wow.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

#2 – Soft hands

Female hands need to appear soft, delicate, and elegant. To achieve this, it’s a matter of conveying to your bride or model to relax or soften their hands. A simple way of demonstrating how to do this is to hold your hand out then fully tense it up and then allow it to drop and relax slightly even wiggle the fingers so they are loose. Think of it like a big balloon, you’re just letting out a little air so they don’t look so hard and stiff.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

#3- Bend the wrist

Bending the wrist (a slight bend so it’s not straight) is such a simple method to break a straight line and create more shape and texture in a shot. Remember the female form looks best when we can see beautiful natural curves, this includes the wrists.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

#4 – Have the hands doing something that appears natural

People often ask, “What can I get my model or bride to do with her hands? I’m stuck for ideas.” This one is one of the simplest issues to address. You could have her holding the flowers, her veil, her dress, fixing her headpiece, adjusting her engagement ring, putting on perfume, touching her man softly, the list goes on. Just make sure it’s something she would normally do so it appears natural, otherwise, it may look a little posed and stuffy.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

#5 – Posing hands with couples

When photographing the bride and groom, think about where you would place your hands if you were cuddling your wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Have the bride’s hands touching the groom’s hand, forearm, chest, or face in a way that says, “I love you”.

Have the groom’s hands on the bride’s waist or on her hands while saying, “I love where your hands are”. This can really change the feel and emotion of your photos.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

#6 – Don’t amputate hands or fingers

When you have two hands overlapping each other it can appear that a hand is missing due to your angle and/or crop. This can happen when the bride has her hands around the back of the groom’s neck or you’re shooting a portrait side-on (as pictured below). The hand closest to the camera is on the other hand making her look like she has no hands or the fingers are amputated. To avoid this just switch hands over so you can see finger tips from one of the hands.

Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography


With all these tips in mind, the most important thing to remember is that hands should be placed in a natural realistic location doing something they would naturally do. So I suggest getting a friend or model and going out and just practicing for an hour or so to see what works and what doesn’t. This way you’ll have confidence on your next the wedding day or portrait shoot.

6 Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography

The post 6 Tips for Posing Hands in Wedding and Portrait Photography by Andrew Szopory appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Make Headshots That Glow

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

I’d like to share a particular technique I use to capture a “glowing subject” effect for headshots. You may be disappointed to hear that, by glow effect, I don’t mean your headshots will literally glow, like in the dark, because they most likely won’t. But that’s okay because this technique is actually better than that and who wants a headshot that literally glows anyway? To the point, when set up correctly, you’ll end up with a subtle, spotlight-like feel on your subject which appears to glow, hence the title of this article.

headshots that glow example

The process

The process consists of a pretty straight forward lighting setup involving the use of different light levels for your key and background light and a fairly long lens. Essentially, you emphasize your subject by allowing light and focus to fall off as it moves toward the background. Here are the details:

To get the effect I use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at around 200mm. I recommend a long and fairly fast lens zoomed all the way into the longest focal length. A long (telephoto) lens will compress the scene and keep your subject from appearing distorted and bent, the way a wide lens would. It will also give you a nice, shallow, depth of field.

headshots that glow lens

Background choice

You’ll want to choose your background first before setting up all of your lights. Unless, of course, you enjoy moving them around for the exercise, which I don’t. I often like to add some interest to each headshot by choosing a background that suggests a kind of “on location” environment. I set mine up in the studio, but backgrounds like this can be found almost anywhere.

headshot background

Keep in mind that the background will be soft in the final photo as a result of using the long end of the 200mm lens and a large aperture, so plan accordingly. To find your background you may find it helpful to focus on something close, reframe, and get some shots of your background out of focus just for test purposes.

Also, keep in mind that you’re going to place your subject at least six to seven feet from the background. Make sure you have room to do this while also having the appropriate distance in front of your subject to frame a good headshot at 200mm. To be safe, give yourself 15 feet in front of the subject.

headshots that glow distance to subject


After finding a good background, it’s time to set up the lights. First, I’d like to give special thanks to my model, the mannequin, for participating in this demo.

headshots mannequin

Main light

The setup I’m using here is called clamshell lighting, with a rim light or kicker (whichever you prefer to call it, also known as an accent light) added on the side of the face. The main light is above the subject and centered. I most often use an AlienBees B800 light with a beauty dish modifier, softened with a diffusion sock or two. Sometimes I’ll use more than one sock so that I can effectively keep my aperture around f/3.5 or maybe even f/2.8 with no sync-speed issues. If you’d like to sculpt the light further, try using a grid on the beauty dish.

headshots lighting setup

I’ve also used a large octabox in place of the beauty dish. However, I think the beauty dish works well for this particular look. I won’t go into great detail about how to best use a beauty dish, but ideally, you’ll want to line the center reflector up with the subject’s face.

Adjust the light depending on your subject’s bone structure, moving it further up and in for more definition in the cheeks, etc. Typically I have the dish about two feet back from the subject (toward camera) and about a foot overhead, focused down at an angle. Boom the light and beauty dish over the subject with a c-stand or whatever boom arm you may have handy.

Addition lights and reflectors

Next, add a reflector under the subject’s face (right above waist level or just out of frame) to bounce light back up and fill the shadows under the chin. The size of the reflector really comes down to what you’re comfortable using.

headshots reflector

Use a strip softbox with a grid for the rim or kicker light. I’ll place the light a few feet behind the subject and about two feet off to one side or the other, aimed back at the subject. Set this light to an exposure equal to your key light (as low as it goes with an AlienBees B800).

headshots lighting

Lastly, set up a background light. You can use any method of diffusion you have at your disposal for your background light. I try to keep mine fairly soft and even. The trick is to underexpose your background a few stops. By this, I mean a couple of stops under the exposure of your subject.

How many stops is a matter of personal preference. However, you don’t want to go too dark or have an exposure too similar to your subject’s exposure, or you’ll loose the effect. Because the key and rim are already set to the lowest light level, you’re going to want to either use heavy diffusion or put some distance between your light and background. Turning the light away from the background works too. Underexposing the background a couple of stops is a critical part of the process.

headshots background headshots background


That’s it. Don’t forget to thank our model, the mannequin, and you should be ready to go! Or shall I say, ready to glow? Hmmm.

Please post any questions or comments you have in the area below, and remember to share your headshots as well.

The post How to Make Headshots That Glow by Carlisle Kellam appeared first on Digital Photography School.


What is Good Light and How to Use it to Create Beautiful Portraits

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Two of the most commonly used and misunderstood phrases thrown around by photographers today are, “It’s all about the light” and “Look at that beautiful light”. But what does that actually mean? How can you use it to make beautiful portraits?

good light portraits

In my early years, I kept hearing photographers online and in person preach about the importance of light yet never clearly explain what good light is and how to actually use it to flatter or minimize a subject’s flaws. Here are a few tips to keep in mind on your next shoot to help understand light and how to use it to make better portraits.

Direction of Light

Before you pick up your camera, stop and look around the scene to see what direction the light is actually coming from which will help you decide what to do with your subject. This might seem really obvious, but once you understand the importance of the direction of light half the battle has been won.

direction of light portraits

For example, when you first walk into a room for an indoor portrait or bridal session the most obvious light source is likely from a window. With window light there are three common lighting scenarios you can create by simply changing your camera and subject position to the light.

Flat Lighting

In this scenario, the window is behind you (you have your back to the window) thus soft light is falling onto your subject. There is no light coming into the lens compared to if you were shooting into the window. Usually the lighting is even and flat with no shadows, provided, of course, that there is no direct sunlight coming through the window.

flat lighting - good light portraits

Here the light was behind the camera providing a nice even light across the groom’s face.

Back Lighting

A backlighting situation is created when you’re shooting into the light (the camera is facing the window). Shooting into the light will cause a lack or loss of contrast in your image, and the background will most likely blow out and be over exposed. You may also choose to shoot this way to purposely eliminate distracting details that maybe outside like a building or car that detracts from the scene.

This is okay if that’s the look you’re going for or you’re shooting a silhouette, but for a portrait it’s usually not the most flattering light.

back lighting silhouette - good light portraits

Here I chose to purposely backlight the bridal party. So the light wasn’t coming directly into the lens and to try and retain some contrast, I simply turned the blinds slightly so the light wasn’t coming directly through the window as much.

Split or Side Lighting

Having your subject next to the window and shooting parallel to it can be a good way to create some shape, tone, and texture by defining highlight and shadow detail in the face and body. It’s also a great way of hiding or highlighting certain features that might be prominent. For example, if your model has blemishes on one side of her face, to hide or minimize this simply place that side of the face in shadow and or crop it out entirely if possible.

side lighting - good light portraits

Here the light was coming from camera left, which also makes her the brightest part of the image compared to the darker back ground. The bride and I were standing parallel to the window.

Light with Intention

To highlight your subject’s face, rather than the torso or arms which are bigger in proportion to the face, simply turn their body away from the light source and turn their face back toward the camera.

Also if you can find a location where the background tone is darker than the subject it will help make the model stand out as the center of interest in your image. This could mean choosing a location in the house which has a darker midrange tone not a white or cream. It’s also most likely going to be out of focus anyway.

good light portraits

Here the light was coming from the window to the right of the bride (from camera view). I asked the bride to turn her body away from the light (to my left, her right) and then bring her face back towards the window. This is how I achieved the shadow detail on her left side of her face and body. I was also shooting from the shadow side or her face.

Quality of Light

Sun light, window light, reflected light, diffused light and back light all have a different quality of light. Direct light sources tend to be harsher and will show skin imperfections easier. Direct midday sunlight can create hard shadows in the eye sockets which can look like dark bags.

If you have to shoot during midday, remember that the light is coming from directly above. So wherever possible find poses to get the models to tilt their heads up towards the sunlight so their entire face is lit to avoid having horrible bags under their eyes.

Look at the quality of light and if it is too harsh like direct sunlight it may be a good idea to introduce some sort of diffuser like a scrim, or get into the shade.

quality of light - portraits

Here I was shooting indoors, but the light coming through the window was too harsh. So I asked my assistant to hold a scrim in the window which created a beautiful even soft quality of light.

Sometimes natural reflectors can be found at the locations where you’re shooting. So if you see a white wall or big white truck and the sun is hitting it, that is now a diffused light source and will be much softer than a direct light source like the sun.

diffuse light portrait

This image was taken outdoors before sunset using a translucent reflector as a diffuser. I asked my assistant to hold the reflector in-between the subjects and myself. This created beautiful, soft, non-direction diffused light on their faces filling in all shadows. The natural sunlight behind them added a nice soft highlight to her hair. You can even see the reflection of the reflector (catch lights) in their eyes.


With all these tips in mind, the most important thing to remember is that all light is not created equally. The best thing I can suggest is to go out and just practice for an hour or so at different times of day with varying light sources to see what works and what doesn’t. This way you’ll have confidence on your next the wedding day or portrait photography shoot.

The post What is Good Light and How to Use it to Create Beautiful Portraits by Andrew Szopory appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

We all make plans and we all have expectations. Then when portrait photography, we want these plans to work well. We’ve got customers to please, memories to create and stories to tell. Plus clients have expectations. They want their pictures to look a certain way. They’ve hired you to recreate that vision.

As a professional, you need to be ready for anything

So when the best-laid plans fall apart, you’ve got to adapt. If you’re shooting portraits professionally, you need to remember that part of the reason you are being paid is you can produce great images no matter the circumstance. This is the difference between you and an amateur. You have the skills and know how to make any situation work.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

I used the white sheet and the black couch for this family portrait. Then in post-processing added a vintage feel to the image.

Have a plan and a backup plan

I can’t stress this enough. It’s important to meet with clients and discuss plans for the shoot. Among the topics, you should discuss a backup plan. What will do if the weather doesn’t cooperate for an outdoor shoot? What if the children won’t cooperate by sitting in a tree? There are all sorts of possibilities, and you need to discuss the fact that sometimes the plans may have to change.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

I had the benefit of a large window behind me but because it was so grey and dark outside I also needed to use my lights.

Sometimes the simple solution is setting an alternate date in case of weather issues. Other times you might discuss the need to use a different location. I love shooting family sessions outdoors. I’ll be honest, I prefer it. Natural light is my best friend, and I have very little patience for setting up studio lights. If at all possible I shoot outdoors. But recently I had a situation where I was unable to set up a “rain date”. The family had only one day together, and if the session didn’t occur on that specific date, well it just wasn’t going to happen. But, I made a mistake, I forgot to discuss alternate plans.

The need to adapt quickly

On the date of the session, the weather was cold, grey, blustery and very unpleasant. We could have shot the session outdoors but the wind wasn’t going to help my cause, and it was too cold outside for their small children. I don’t think the kids would have cooperated. I was lucky, my clients were flexible, and we quickly worked to discuss an alternate plan.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

The boys loved being able to crawl all over the couch and be silly. I made sure I had mom’s permission first.

They had a beautiful, large bay window. So we shifted some furniture, hung up my large white sheet as a backdrop, and used a large couch as a prop. It wasn’t an ideal setting, but it did the trick. My clients were happy with the results, and that’s all that matters.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

The boys weren’t centered on the couch but I wasn’t worried, as it was more about capturing their relationship.

Suggestions for making it work on the fly:

  1. Think outside the box. Be creative and look for places that will suit your purpose and still create an eye-catching image. You might use a bedroom or fireplace if you have to shoot indoors. Outdoors, maybe you could shoot underneath a large umbrella or veranda. The front door of a house can be quite attractive as well.
  2. Don’t get nervous. Be calm and confident. This will ensure your clients that you are confident in your abilities. They, in turn, will relax and give you those amazing relaxed smiles you’re looking for and that you want to capture so much.
  3. Always take a portable lighting kit to every session. You never know when you will need it. As much as I hate using the lights they’ve saved me so many times.
  4. Make sure you have a really large backdrop and a white sheet. The white sheet can be pinned to the wall in a pinch or used as a large reflector if need be. I’ve even used the sheet to cover up an ugly floor.
  5. Reassure clients that they are not the first to have plans change suddenly. Even if it is the first time, it’s ever happened to you, tell them it’s no big deal.
  6. Go with the flow. Don’t be rigid, let things unfold as they will. If you always come to a photo shoot with a very specific plan, you may get easily flustered. Just relax and see what happens.
  7. Rely on your skills, they are your biggest asset. Use all the knowledge you’ve gained to help you produce amazing images. Never forget all you’ve learned.
How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

In this case, he lay on the floor near the window so we accessed all the light we could possibly get.


Portrait photography is often unpredictable but isn’t that the fun of it all? You never know what’s going to happen. Enjoy the rush that comes from turning a potential disaster into an amazing opportunity. Let it test your skills and push the limits of your creativity. Leave us some your tips for managing the unexpected in the comments section below. Tell us your anecdotal stories. We want to hear it all.

Leave us some your tips for managing the unexpected in the comments section below. Tell us your anecdotal stories. We want to hear it all.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

He loved to pose for the camera so I let him. I later used a filter to create the vintage film look.

How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography

The parents relaxed when they saw how much fun the kids were having during the session.

The post How to Adapt to any Situation for Portrait Photography by Erin Fitzgibbon appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

If you limit your portrait photography to daylight, you’re missing out on a chance to get some really cool people photos. Whether you just want something better from your camera automatically, or you want complete control of the light in the scene, there’s something in this article for you. Read on to get some tips to help you create and shoot night portraits.

Get off Automatic Mode

If you’re using your camera in Automatic mode, you’ll find one of two things will happen. With the flash off, you get a really blurry photo because the camera needs a longer exposure time at night. Or with the flash turned on, the camera restricts the shutter speed and while your subject is well lit by the flash (but is flatly lit), the background has gone black. It’s a lose-lose situation, especially if you want to mix a photo of your subject with a cool background.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - automatic mode

With Auto Flash, the background gets rendered quite dark, and even fully black later in the night.

Night Scene Mode

Fortunately, most cameras have a set of helpful scene modes. On the command dial, there are modes like M for Manual and P for Program (or professional as some of my buddies like to joke). But you’ll also find a series of picture icons, like a mountain or a sprinter. The one you want here is the Night Scene mode (you may have to go into your menu to find it). It usually has the moon or a star with a person. This mode allows for a longer exposure, but your flash fires as well.

Night scene mode.

Set the mode and remember that because you’ll have a longer exposure, you need to hold the camera steady. Your flash will freeze the subject, but they need to stay still for the shot as well, to avoid going transparent. You’re not shooting ghosts here! Sometimes this mode will be called Slow Synchro instead of Night Scene Mode.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - slow synchro or night scene mode

Slow Synchro/Night Scene mode exposes for both the flash and the background, although it can result in image blur from camera shake.

Moving to Manual

When I shoot nightclub portraits, I’m emulating this mode, but I have the camera set for Manual control. I use an aperture and shutter speed on the camera so the background scene looks good, maybe a little under exposed, then I use an automatic flash on-camera to capture my portrait.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

A nightclub shot taken with the camera set to Manual mode, with exposure set to expose for the background. A mix of high ISO and a large aperture helped prevent camera shake. The flash was in TTL mode, setting flash exposure was set automatically.

Let’s look at how you can take even more control now. As you probably tell from how Night Scene mode works, you’re effectively taking two shots in one picture. The first is of your subject, the second is of the background.

Lighting the Subject

For complete control of light on your subject, you need to use a light that’s off-camera. This doesn’t have to be a flash. In fact, it can even be a street light, something we can touch on later in the article. It can also be a continuous light that you’ve brought with you, like an LED or video light. But before this, we’ll look at using flash.

To get your flash off-camera, you need a trigger to fire it. If you have a flash like the Godox V850II, it has a receiver built-in, so you just need a trigger like the XT-16 or the X1. The same applies to the Cactus RF60X flash paired with the V6II trigger. You’ll also need a light stand or someone to hold the flash and aim it for you. To get an idea of where you can point the flash to achieve great lighting, check out my article on lighting positions. If you want to control the look of the light, have a look at this article 4 Value Speedlight Modifiers that Won’t Break the Bank.

The Background

The background just needs a longer exposure to render on the sensor. If you want to avoid blurring your background, use a tripod. Even with a tripod, you can opt to use a higher ISO to make the shutter speed shorter.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

This shot was in Manual mode, and the exposure was set for the background. The off-camera flash was set to manual and was dialed up or down as needed to suit the exposure for the background.

Getting the shot

The first step you need to make is how much of the shot you want in focus. A wide aperture like f2/.8 means the background will go out of focus, but you can use a shorter shutter speed to expose the background. When using flash, the shutter speed isn’t important for the subject, so you should get the subject flash exposure right first.

Set your aperture and your ISO first, 400-800 should be fine. If you’ve got a prime lens, you can even try wider aperture’s which will give a creamy out of focus background. The shutter speed can be anything below 1/200th (or your camera’s sync speed, which will be in your camera manual). Tip: If you can’t focus properly, use your phone flashlight to illuminate the face enough to focus, then switch the lens to manual focus.

Aim your flash at the subject at a low power like 1/32 or 1/16. Take a shot and check it. Firstly, if the subject is too bright, turn the flash power down. Alternatively, if they’re too dark, turn it up. Finally, if it’s still too bright at the lowest flash setting, move the flash further away from the subject.

This image was shot at 1/250th, which is the sync speed of the camera. Flash power is tied to the aperture below the sync speed of the camera, so you can safely open up the shutter speed to add more light in the background. 

With that working, you probably have a black background, like the image above. Have no fear, you’re only halfway there. Next, bring your shutter speed down. If you’ve got live view on your camera, use it. Make sure it’s set to Exposure Simulation or Preview Mode On. As you lower the shutter speed (make it slower), you’ll see more and more of the background. When you’re happy with how the background looks, you’re ready to shoot.

This lighter image was shot at 1/30th. Notice that the flash exposure on the subject is the same in both pictures. Both shots are at ISO 1600 and f/4.0. As a final note, the subject was completely dark, so to focus I had him use his phone to light his face. I used autofocus to lock focus, then switched to manual and indicated he should stay still.

If your shutter speed is really slow, like 1/15th of a second or below, encourage your subject to stay still so they aren’t blurred in the image.

Background Ideas

Your background can be an interesting building, a bridge or even just a street. For a really cool look, find somewhere with loads of lights. By using a really shallow aperture these look fantastic out of focus.

Bokeh background

Using Continuous Light

If you bring a something to light your subject other than a flash, there’s a different juggling act that needs to happen. First, you’ll probably need a higher ISO. For these shots, set your background exposure first and then introduce the light on the subject.

In the image below I brought in a $35 Godox LED video panel. The panel has both brightness and white balance controls from Tungsten to Daylight. It gives a nice soft quality of light and looks natural. Even better is that what you see in the viewfinder is what you’ll get when you shoot, not like flash, where you’re always guessing.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - LED panel

Using an LED panel instead of a flash can be a great option. You can see the shot in the viewfinder and focus easily.

If your light doesn’t have a brightness control, you can move it closer or away from your subject to change the intensity on the subject instead. This applies to using a street light as well. If your subject is bright compared to the background, move them further away from the light to get a better balance.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

Street lights can also be used for night portraits.

For this shot, I used a street light across the road as my key light. I moved my subject until I could see a triangle of light on the side of the face opposite the light. A slight tilt of the head helped as well. I chose this spot so I had the railway bridge and cars in the distance out of focus, but the background still retained interest.

Shooting with Style

To go the whole hog, you could get someone to do hair and makeup, as well as getting really stylish clothes to make the shot look even better. You can just use friends and clothes borrowed their wardrobe, but it makes it look properly professional.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

Here’s a selection of night portraits that I’ve done and details about how they were made.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

The band, Drown, photographed for The Thin Air Magazine. Here I used the Godox AD360 with a 120cm Octa box off to camera right. This post-sunset scene was exposed to capture a good exposure for the clouds, then the flash was set to expose the band correctly. Without flash, the band would have been silhouetted

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

This photo doesn’t contain a background, but I wanted to create the feel of a busy road. I used two bare-bulb speed lights to give the effect of passing cars lighting from the front and back. In reality, we were on an empty road with no traffic. The backlight was positioned as both a rim light and to add flare.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

I’ve been doing a series of portraits with a red tulle skirt, so it’s appropriate that I include them here. This was shot using a speed light and a 120cm Octa box. The light was off to camera left to create a loop lighting pattern. I’ve balanced the flash and ambient light to get this exposure. There is a mistake in it though. I really should have used a CTO gel (Color Temperature Orange), or at least a half CTO gel to warm up the color of the flash a little. The flash can look quite blue when shot against tungsten lighting, especially the sodium vapor lights in the background here.

Get out there and try some night portraits

Nothing here will make any difference if you don’t get out there. If you’ve got no gear, you should start with a battery powered LED work light or even one of the Godox LEDP 120C panels (make sure you get a battery as well). Get your camera off automatic too, and give yourself more control!

The post How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Comparing a 50mm Versus 85mm Lens for Photographing People

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School, Portrait Photography

As a writer for Digital Photography School, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive from beginner and intermediate photographers is, “If I have to choose just ONE lens to buy right now, which one should I choose?” We’ve previously discussed the differences between a 24mm lens and a 50mm lens for photographing people, and in that same vein, it’s time for another lens showdown!

lens photographing people

In this article, we’ll be discussing the differences between an 85mm and a 50mm lens for photographing people. Once again, I’ll walk you through several sets of similar images taken with each lens so that you can easily see the differences between the two. Hopefully, you can walk away with a better understanding of which lens might be the best upgrade for you.

To keep things consistent, all images in this article were taken with a Canon 60D, and either the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens or the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. The Canon 60D is an APS-C sensor (cropped sensor) camera, so in order to determine the functioning focal length of these lenses on this camera, multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 (multiply by 1.5 if you use Nikon). So on a cropped sensor camera, the 50mm lens functions roughly as an 80mm lens, and the 50mm lens functions as a 136mm lens.

1. Differences in Depth of Field

lens photographing people

This image was taken with Canon 85mm lens at f/1.8.

One of the biggest differences between the 85mm lens and the 50mm lens is the distance that you’ll need to stand from your subject. With the 85mm lens, the minimum focusing distance is 2.8 ft, and with the 50mm lens, the minimum focusing distance is 1.15 ft.

This means that in general, you will be standing further away from your subject with the 85mm lens, than you will with the 50mm. In turn, this decreases the depth of field, which means that images shot with the 85mm lens tend to have much blurrier bokeh than images shot with the 50mm lens, even when using the same aperture.

lens photographing people

This image was taken with a Canon 50mm at f/1.8.

You can see the difference clearly in the cherry blossoms in the background of the two images above, both of which were shot at f/1.8. The cherry blossoms are fairly well blurred in both images, but the shape of the blossoms is more defined in the image taken with the 50mm lens, and the blossoms are significantly more blurred and creamy in the image that with the 85mm lens.

Of course, everyone has a different preference when it comes to bokeh. Some prefer the more uniform creaminess that the 85mm lens offers, while other photographers prefer to have a little more definition in the background.

lens photographing people

Left: 85mm lens | Right: 50mm lens.

You may even find that you prefer different approaches in different applications! For example, I usually favor the more uniform bokeh of the 85mm lens. However, when I’m photographing in the grass, I prefer the bit of texture which the 50mm lens provides (see the examples above).

This is purely a matter of preference, so start making mental notes about which type of images you tend to prefer when you look at other photographers’ work. If you find that you are always drawn to the creamier texture, then the 85mm lens may be a better fit for you. If you prefer a bit more texture in the background, you may want to consider the 50mm lens instead.

2. Differences in Framing

lens photographing people

This image was taken with 50mm lens.

In addition, spend some time thinking about the content of your backdrops. Using an 85mm lens will result in an image that is more closely framed on your subject. On the other hand, shooting with the 50mm lens will result in an image that includes more of the background (though not nearly as much as shooting with the Canon 24mm lens).

Do you happily hike up to the top of a mountain for a photo session? You might want to consider the 50mm lens in order to more fully capture the trees and vistas in the background behind your portrait subject(s).

lens photographing people

This image was taken in exactly the same place as the previous one, only using the 85mm lens instead of the 50mm.

On the other hand, do you often find yourself trying to disguise the background in your images? Do you shoot on location with backgrounds that are sometimes out of your control and/or unpredictable?  In that case, you may want to consider the 85mm lens.

When you combine the decreased depth of field of the 85mm lens with the closer framing of your subject, the 85mm lens is stellar at creating beautiful portrait images at almost any location.

3. Differences in Shooting Distance

lens photographing people

This image was taken with 50mm lens.

Remember when I said that when you’re using an 85mm lens you’ll be standing further away from your subject than you would be using a 50mm lens? Here’s another reason why that’s important to know, I almost never use my 85mm lens inside our home.

Our house is just over 1,000 square feet, and depending on the room, sometimes I physically cannot back up far enough to use my 85mm lens. Aside from official photography business, it’s important to me to be able to capture little day to day moments of our family, and so having a fast lens that I can use indoors is a must-have for me.

As much as I love my 85mm lens, it just isn’t a great fit for that purpose given the size of our home. Your mileage may vary.

Lens photographing people

This image was taken with 85mm lens.

On the other hand, when we’re outdoors I often prefer my 85mm lens. In that situation, standing further away from my subjects is a good thing. I can let my kids play and have fun without being all up in their business. Having a bit more space between them and the camera means that they’re able to relax more easily, which in turn leads to more genuine expressions and candid smiles.


As you can see, both of these lenses are great for capturing portrait-style images of people – I personally keep both in my camera bag and use them with near equal frequency.

That said, if you’re only able to purchase one lens right now, both lenses have situations in which they outshine the other, so it’s important for you to think realistically about your preferences and the way you’ll use a portrait lens most often in order to get the most bang for your buck!

If you have one of these lenses – which do you use the most for people photography?

The post Comparing a 50mm Versus 85mm Lens for Photographing People by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.