questions anwered, take two

I noticed when looking back at the first version of “Your Questions, Answered” that there were several more questions in the comments section that I don’t think I ever got to. I’ll start there.

1. what type of black backdrop did you use for the shot of just you on your photo-a-day blog? My black backdrop was a gift from my incredibly awesome friend Amy and I’m not totally sure what brand it is. I could go check but I’m lazy, sorry. Anyway, the fabric is a fairly light-weight muslin so when I use it I usually end up burning the background just to make sure none of the shadowing or creases are shown in the finished product.

2. Just another question, I love the new signature you put on pictures you take, how did you do? I will be happy to invent one for myself…

My watermark is just something I designed using the text and brush tools in photoshop. Once you come up with something you like all you have to do is designate it as a brush and then stamp it over all of your photos. Do this by creating your design in a blank PS document, using the rectangular marquee tool to select around your stamp and then choosing edit > define brush preset along the top toolbar. Name your brush something snazzy and then you’re done! It should now always show up in your drop-down menu of brushes when you choose the brush tool.

3. Do you shoot in Manual? Yes, about 95% of the time. I actually think I’m guilty of shooting in manual too often and missing everyday moments becuase I’m busy fiddling with correct exposure. I’m trying to make myself resort to Av more often when I want to just grab a snapshot (like yesterday’s airport pictures). I’m trying to remind myself that sometimes capturing the moment is more important than creating a portrait every single time. I struggle with that.

4. What do you usually set your Aperture at when shooting groups of people versus 1 subject? When I’m just shooting one subject I tend to hover somewhere around 2.0 indoors and 2.8 outdoors. I’m happier around 2.8 but when I really need to let more light in I’m not afraid to open all the way up. I have a harder time with groups of people and I can never seem to get everyone super sharp so I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this question BUT I would suggest trying to stay around f8 for groups shots. Then again, it’s going to depend on whether or not your subjects are on the same (or close) plane and how close YOU are to the subject. Check out this awesome depth of field calculator for more info on how all those factors work together.

5. Do you leave your metering on center focus all the time or change it up? I always use evaluative metering and take a meter reading off of the back of my hand or the subject’s skin if the tone is substantially different from mine (which means anyone with even a HINT of a tan…I’m whiter than white!). I’ve played around with spot metering but have never been happy with the results. I’m totally sure this is user error though and nothing more so play around with it!

6. Do you have any advice for using a white backdrop? Yes…don’t. JUST KIDDING! I’m just horrible at it so, again, I’m probably not the right person to ask. I have found that I get better results with a white backdrop when I actually take the time to pull out my grey card and set a custom white balance before I start shooting. Then I just meter as usual off of the subjects skin and let the white blow out in the background. I still end up having to dodge the background in PS. My favorite method for getting a pure white background though is when backlighting your subject with a window like in this shot (ignore that it’s slightly out of focus!). If you do this though just make sure that you’re either using a pretty heavy duty reflector or have another window as an additional source of light in front or to the side of the subject.

7. okay so I see that Amy S. is also getting old of her point and shoot camera- what are those books that you recommended to her?! Here are my personal favorites…

How to Photograph Your Life
Understanding Exposure
Learning to See Creatively
Portrait Photography:Secrets of Posing and Lighting (this one deals with natural as well as studio lighting)

8. OK, do you EVER use a flash? I do. But not lately. The batteries are dead and I’m too lazy to change them. I guess the third trimester will do that to you! I have a 420ex Speedlite. Correction, my dear Aunt Lori has a 420ex Speedlite that’s been in my possession for the last year. Have I mentioned before that my Aunt Lori rocks? Anyway, it’s a fun piece of equipment but I still prefer natural light. I’m not rock solid with my flash so I really only pull it out when I have to. I’ve never used my camera’s pop-up flash.

9. Do you still only use a 85mm, majority of the time? I split all of my shooting between the 85mm/1.8 and the 50mm/1.4. In the winter when we’re stuck inside quite a bit I end up shooting with the 50mm most of the time just because of it’s shorter focal length. I find that I use the 50mm inside and the 85mm outside as a general rule.

10. What steps do you take in PS to edit your pictures. Can you post a before and after of a photo you have edited? My typical workflow involves a levels adjustment, a color balance layer, a very gentle S curve, another curve with a slight tug up on the midtones and a pull over to make the shadows deeper, a low saturation action I created using the channel mixer, and then a brightness/contrast boost (usually with the numbers +4 and +8). Oh, and a sharpen at the end. I really never do anything other than that but each photo requires a different amount in each step which is why I don’t use actions. I just can never get the same results. I did make a “standard” action that I run when I have a bazillion vacation photos or something and I just want to give each of them a little pop but don’t want to take the time to manually edit them all. I really want to share that with you guys but I still haven’t figured out how to go about doing that. Any ideas?

And here’s an SOOC and and edited copy…

I should also mention that in addition to the above steps I also created a little vignette on the photo using the burn tool. More about that in the question about vignetting…keep scrolling. 🙂 I also erased back the sweater on the brightness/contrast layer.

11. That pesky flash. . . I try to turn it off, but sometimes that results in blurry pics since my main subject is pretty mobile. I figure, better to get a sharp pic with flash than a very blurry one without. What’s your take? And then, once I have the photo with flash is there a good (simple/easy) way to make it look a little less harsh using PS? (did you use a flash in the pic of Sarah in the tub? If not, how did you get it so sharp in the odd lighting of a bathroom?) Since I know that Amy asked this question and I know that Amy just has a point and shoot (for now anyway!) and therefore only has the flash your camera came with I’ll answer this question from that perspective (rather than if asked from someone who has a detachable flash). It can be very difficult with a point and shoot to get sharp pictures all the time, especially in low light conditions. Most point and shoots now allow you to adjust your ISO which will help get your shutter speed up and reduce motion blur but the result is often lots of grain and color noise. DSLRs are more friendly in this area but point and shoots, not so much. My opinion is that if you’re trying to catch a moment that you can’t catch without the flash then just go for it! Better to have the memory preserved than to have the memory almost preserved, you know? As I said above, not every photo has to be a portrait. As for softening the effects of a flash photo in photoshop I really don’t know. I didn’t start editing my photos with PS until I got my Rebel and didn’t need to shoot flash at all. SORRY!

12. Second question is on converting to B&W in PS. I followed Kelby’s directions using Levels>Gradient Map>adjusting the Red color channel, then green, then blue. Do you have a better way? And how do you do them with the hint of brown (like the ones of Sarah sitting on the SF trail?) I don’t know about a “better way” but I can tell you what I do. There are so, so, so many different ways to convert to black and white and even more styles when it comes to the look. A great black and white photograph should have every tone of black and white ranging from the blackest black to the whitest white so that’s always what I strive for when converting. I start by editing my photo in color FIRST. I find that when I increase the depth of the tones in the photo first then I don’t have to fiddle as much when I convert to b/w. Then I create a curves layer, then a gradient map layer (make sure you’ve chosen the black to white gradient), and I then go back and adjust each channel in the curves layer. I usually only fiddle with the red and blue channels…but if you really need a bigger adjustment then play with green. I tend to tug the midtones up and push the shadows over.

As for adding a brownish tone into your b/w, create a curves layer like before, then a hue/saturation layer instead of a gradient map layer. When you open the hue/saturation layer then make sure the “colorize” box is checked and then use the number 30 for “hue” and 5 for “saturation”. You can adjust the amount of color in the photo by playing around with these numbers or sliders. Then you can go back and mess with your curves the same way as in the above steps.

13. Do you prefer to shoot at client’s homes or out on location? Why? Gosh, good question. I think I prefer to shoot in homes actually. In general I’m more comfortable indoors even though the light can be really, really tough. Plus, I really like the look of a photo infused with the personality of a home. Afterall, people choose the decor they love so what better way to reflect their style than by showcasing it in their portraits? It’ll be a match for sure when the photos show up on the walls! I do like shooting on-location though…although I’m not really into the urban thing. I guess I prefer a more natural look most of the time.

14. so do you have any good old tips + tricks for shooting indoors, particularly when using window light only? what is good lighting? how do you position for good lighting? This is a pretty tough question since I really prefer to shoot babies, toddlers, and kids and they really don’t like to be “positioned”, you know? I guess I find that I end up positioning myself rather than them. I’m a huge fan of backlighting if there’s an additional source of light in front of the subject (or I have an assistant to hold a reflector). See here for an example. Flat lighting is probably the easiest thing to achieve though which requires that you put yourself directly between the main source of light and the subject (being careful not to block the light). You’ll get nice catchlights this way and a nice even light. Check out an old example here. Sidelighting can be a bit tricker since you really need to watch your shadows and get your subject positioned correctly to still catch light in both eyes but it can create a nice, even moody, effect. Like this, although this shot isn’t moody in anyway! Check out the portrait photography book I linked a few questions up and you’ll learn tons and tons about different ways to light your subject!

15. Any PS tips you can give, I feel all over the place with editing. First, check out question 10. Then, do this: figure out what look you really, really like. Find photos that have processing that you admire and figure out what it is that you like about them. One thing I notice a lot in people’s work (especially those that are new to PS and super excited about it’s capabilities) is that they tend to be, like you said, “all over the place” when it comes to processing them. I’ve found that I prefer a clean, crisp, colorful look, but not oversaturated or overdone. Kind of like makeup…it’s best when it looks like you’re not wearing any! Some people really like the look of super-processed photos or heavy vignettes or even trends like selective coloring, overlays, and textures. Decide what YOU like and what reflects your photos best. Always make sure that your processing adds to the story that you want your photo to tell rather than distracting from it. And then go with it! 🙂 Vague answer, I know.

16. GULP!!! been meaning to ask!!! I will be starting a couple of reads on photography and PS editing for photographers. I am a HUGE fan of your pics and well I just love looking at them soooo, well, um, I was wondering, if YOU have ever considered mentoring yourself (you maybe already) I know you highly recommend Wendy, but um what about you? Of course well after your babe arrives! (I had to include this entire question b/c it was just so darn flattering…thanks!). Actually, I would totally be willing to help someone one on one…at some point. With the new baby arriving ANYDAY(!!!) and the business launch in March I realize that I just can’t give anyone the time they deserve right now. Possibly in the summer or fall though.

17. How do you do your vignettes? With a light hand, first and foremost! I’m not a fan of heavy vignetting on my photos although some people really know how to work it and make it add to their story (like we talked about in #15). I prefer just enough of a vignette to call a little extra attention to the subject. After I finish all other editing I choose a large, soft-sided brush with the burn tool set at about 8% opacity. I usually start with the midtones, then the shadows, and only sometimes do I burn the highlights as well. Always do this on a duplicate layer though so you can tone it down after you’ve finished. This is Anna Jones method who is a MASTER at using burning to enhance the mood of her photos!

18. What major differences have you noticed between your XT and 5d? I’m talking picture quality and ease of use. I am toying with the idea of upgrading myself but I’d like to hear from someone who’s done it. Besides the obvious difference of the 5d having a full-frame sensor the biggest thing I notice (and the reason I took the leap and got it) is the amazing ability of the 5d to handle noise. Going into client’s homes can be tricky when you don’t know what you’re going to get in terms of light and I needed to make sure that I could still get portrait quality shots even at high ISO’s. I don’t hesitate to use 800 when I need to and if I’m confident that I’m nailing the exposure then I’ll even crank it up to 1600.

19. I would like to know some of your baby/todder tricks, as far as getting them to look at you, sit still, smile. I have some up my sleeve, but am always looking for new ideas and everyone seems to tackle it differently! First of all, for children two and older I prefer to shoot them when their parents aren’t around. Parents can be such a distraction sometimes even though they totally want to help! I always make sure I get them comfortable with me before I start shooting. Then I show them how my camera works and that they can see the photos in the LCD after I take them. Always a hit! I’m also not above bribery and have used everything from frozen peas to marshmallows and skittles…whatever the little ones want! For older toddlers the phrases, “don’t you dare look at my camera!” and “don’t even think about smiling!” always result in smiling faces looking directly into the camera. HA! Babies and younger toddlers usually require the help of a parent but I’m sure to explain EXACTLY what I want the parent to do before we start. I show them how to get right next to my lens and help get the child’s attention. A sure fire way to get babies to stop and look is to make sure the entire room is silent for several seconds (at least 15) and then bark like a dog! Works everytime! For some reason babies and little toddlers always like the “shhhhh” sound too…that’s usually a winner. Peekabo from behind the camera will usually get smiles too. Little guys are tough but SO worth it when you get the shots that make you melt!

20. The lighting on your pictures makes my jaw drop. It’s been asked already but do you ever use flash indoors? If not do you use a high ISO and then noiseware? Or do you just have spectacular light every day all day??? 🙂 Your pictures always look flawless! Like I said above, I’m not afraid to shoot at a high ISO…just make sure your exposure is right on. I don’t have spectacular light all day in our new house but in our old house in Colorado I definitely did! The trick is to find the good light and make it work for you, regardless of the background. Move furniture if you have to! Whenever I leave a client’s house it looks like a tornado came through! I don’t really use noiseware that often…in fact I can’t remember the last time I did although I know it’s a great tool. I’m all for a gentle blur on the cheeks though but usually just for skin-smoothing, not for noise issues.

21. Do you prefer color or black and white? Just curious. Ugh. I have no idea. I guess it depends on the photo. All of the work of mine that’s displayed in my home though is black and white (except for one).

22. Ok, my question is, if you are going to purchase another lens, what would it be? YAY…great question! I’m hoping some of my generous, rich relative are reading! (okay, who am kidding? They may be generous but there’s not a rich one of us in the bunch!) I’m really, really, really want the 100mm/2.8 and the 24-70mm/2.8L. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

23. i have one more question. do you ever use a reflector? and if so, what kind? I’m kind of embarassed to answer this but I will anyway. I do use a reflector if I have someone to hold it and I think I need it. As for what I use…are you ready??? tin foil. Yep, tin foil. Usually wrapped tightly around a cookie sheet so that it stays smooth and maintains it’s strong reflective quality. I really should invest in something a little more professional looking but the tin foil works great!

PHEW! I’m done! Now I’m heading off the veg on the couch with Samantha while our little ones sleep. If anyone read this far hooray for you!

AnonymousNovember 7, 2007 - 12:48 pm

Thank you!!!! Thank you for taking the time to share all your knowledge and not charging a dime for it!! I’m a “lurker” that loves your blog.
Amy T.

SharonNovember 7, 2007 - 1:35 pm

In #19 you forgot grapes! 😉

A.K.November 7, 2007 - 1:55 pm

you’re amazing… thanks!

brandyNovember 7, 2007 - 3:09 pm

THANKS SO MUCH! I’ve got to help figure out a way to share that action…isn’t there something called gigasize? I’ll do some investigating, though, I really don’t know how the sharing works..

AmyNovember 7, 2007 - 3:11 pm

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

DebbieNovember 7, 2007 - 4:36 pm

Thanks Erin for taking the time to answer questions and share your experience. We are all still learning, aren’t we? I truly admire your work, and even more so, the heart that goes into it. Thanks again!

casNovember 7, 2007 - 5:51 pm

you are just toooooo sweet. thank you. thank you. thank you. i really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge and to help us all out. you are very talented. your daughter is just a doll. and im so glad i found your blog.

JaniceNovember 7, 2007 - 9:41 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all our questions!!!

JeanelleNovember 7, 2007 - 9:49 pm

It’s wonderful that you took the time to answer all of these questions!

Now – to answer yours…

To post your action — either 1. host it on a file hosting site, such as gigasize or filebuffer — then post the link on your blog(the host site will give you a link).
2. You can just put it on your photography site, using an FTP.
That’s how I usually host things, so that people can click, and it’ll immmediately start the download when they click the link I provide them.

If you need further help or clarification, let me know.

SusieNovember 7, 2007 - 11:19 pm

You are the nicest person I’ve never met, I think 🙂

ChristiNovember 8, 2007 - 7:20 am

You are so amazing to take the time to explain all this. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see the before and after PS pictures – it gives me hope for some of my own. I’m going to have to start learning how to use this software for more than just fixing red eyes.

JamieNovember 8, 2007 - 8:50 am

You are so generous with all of your information, I can hardly wait for all of my pictures to look like yours….YEAH RIGHT!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions, I have printed everything out for future reference!!

Shana-LynnNovember 9, 2007 - 10:17 am

Thanks so much for your time answering all these questions to help us out! You’re awesome to do this.

MishelleNovember 10, 2007 - 10:25 am

Just another admirer with a huge THANK YOU for sharing your tips!

lizNovember 11, 2007 - 5:08 pm

Girl, you are TOO sexy when you talk all photog like that!

AnonymousDecember 12, 2007 - 9:26 am

WAOU you reply me!!!! THANKS YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!

French mom

JennyJanuary 19, 2008 - 4:53 pm

Hi Erin,

I have a question about sharpening. What percentage do you sharpen at? Do you use unsharp mask or smart sharpen? In one of S.Kelby’s books he said to sharpen around 70%, but sometimes I feel like that is too much and it starts to look fake. Can you help me in this department! 🙂 I love the new office by the way!!

Jenny B.

Your email is never published or shared.

There was an error submitting your comment. Please try again.