Happy Happier.

So yesterday was a lifestyle shoot. That means…





It also needs careful lighting: yesterday for me was about composition and light. Two speedlights, one in an umbrella, that’s all I used. Everything in manual; flashes operated by pocketwizards. And careful balancing of foreground and background light. And saturated colours as a result.

A shoot like that also needs design, storyboarding, props, models, and timing. Everything is designed. And a photographer who knows what is required. I can shoot in any style required, and for this style, colour is the big requirement: colour and happiness and interaction, communication, “party”. It’s great when everything comes together, and yesterday’s shoot, for a mobile spa, was one of those.



Mood. Moody. Moodier.

Feelings. Mood. That’s what we are all about, and that’s what series of photographs can also be all about. Like these, from a theme shoot on Saturday: can you tell what mood they portray?

That’s right: Sadness. Depression. Desperation. Suicide.

And the trick is to portray that without totally spelling it out. You do that by such things as:

  • Using appropriate facial expressions.
  • Using appropriate body language.
  • Lighting carefully.
  • Using harder rather than softer light.
  • Desaturating the colours.
  • Sharpening.
  • Using black and white.
  • Using shadows.
  • Vignetting slightly, perhaps.
  • Increasing contrast.
  • Increasing Clarity.

And that’s when you can show moodiness.

The above (best seen at full size) were taken during a charity shoot Saturday. A shoot for a mental health charity that concerns itself with depression, suicide, addiction. Hence the long faces on the part of the models, who all volunteered their time, as did the hair stylist and make-up artist.


Story, story, story.

When shooting an event, always tell a story. People do not want to just see random images; since Gilgamesh and Homer, people like to hear stories.

In practical terms, for you as a photographer that means:

  1. Start with an Establishing Shot or two, to establish where the event is taking place
  2. Make sure that before you present the work to your friends, your relatives, or your client, you arrange (not: shoot) the event in (chrono-) logical sequence. In Lightroom, use a collection, and sort it manually. When exporting, use the sequence number in the export filename, so your sort order is honoured.
  3. Shoot a “B–roll”, including decorations and food. B-roll pictures are the background. The decorations. The food. The small details. You can shoot those before, during, and sometyimes even after the event.
  4. Include signs that have names and details of the event.

Let’s look at some examples from the event I co-shot Saturday night. So these are not the event pictures (those feature people); these are the “B-roll shots” that act as glue to keep the people shots together.

These are examples of the kind of shots that make random people pictures into a story your friends or customers want to see. It’s easy, it’s fun.

(All images except the first one: camera on manual; flash on TTL; flash bounced behind me at a dark ceiling, so 1600 ISO was needed to get enough bounce.)



So today I did yet another CEO shoot. I do love environmental portraits.

So what do I look for in such a portrait? How do I make one? I thought it might be interesting for you to follow along, so to speak, with my process.

It starts with the lens. I start with a wide angle lens, because I will probably want the person “surrounded” by the rest of the shot. By their environment, in other words. Probably, not necessarily: so I also bring lots of other lenses. If I do use the wide lens, I am careful not to get too close to my subject: distortion is always a possibility.

Then the light. I will usually start with one off camera flash in an umbrella. So, since it is a flash picture, I start with the ambient light. 400/40/4 is a common start point. Whatever it is, I continue until I am happy with the ambient light, that I typically want at –2 stops, and only then go on to flash. For the flash, I ensure it is aimed at the subject’s face from the right direction, at the right angle (e.g. 45 degrees off-centre, 45 degrees up).

Then the location. I look for something that is typical for the person I am shooting. An office, for instance. But I also look for good composition. The rule of third, for instance. Leading lines, diagonals converging where the subject is, leading the eye there, are good.

I watch carefully for reflections in glass, and position lights and subject accordingly. I check that the subject’s clothing and hair are all OK.

An extra flash or two, with gels, are always ready to be used. A dash of colour here and there is great.

And now: in practice. Can you see how I applied all these techniques to today’s CEO portrait shoot?

Of course I also use all other standard composition and portrait and technical rules. But it’s not about those; it’s about showing something of the subject’s world, and of his or her personality.


Tell stories

Even in the smallest ways, you can tell stories, and even in snapshots there is thought, Like tonight, as I walked to class. I shot a little four-image story.

First, the all-important overview “establishing shot”:

Shows where we are going. Namely Sheridan College, where I teach several photography courses. I used the “Sunny Sixteen Rule” to set the camera without using the light meter. Partely overcast at 7pm, that is about 3 stops down from sunny at noon. So, 400 ISO, 1/400 sec, f/5.6 (5.6 being three stops down from “sunny” 16).

Then, let’s add some depth, some 3D, and at the same time let’s tell the viewer where we are:

Showing depth? That’s done by using “close-far”. A close-by object very close to you, with the background showing far away. That shows us there is depth in the photo; that it is not flat, in other words.

That being done, now let’s use a nice curve, a converging one at that, to imply that we are going in, by showing “the path”:

And now that we are there, let’s see the class, during a break:

Again, nice S-curves lead the viewer’s eye into the photo. Focused on the person closest to us. Using the Rule of Thirds.

The point? The point is that you can, and should, apply “high rules” to “low snaps”; and that this makes them better. Enjoy!