The bride, the beautiful Cassandra, arrived at Shear Envy, a local, eclectic salon, to be styled by the very talented Laryn. The mother of the bride helped her daughter into her gown and the bridal party was off to the ceremony! Cassandra and Casey finally got to enjoy the day that had long planned... They arrived at Stone Creek, a beautiful outdoor venue, to make their vows and promise each other forever. The ceremony was beautiful, with solemn faces, interspersed with laughter. The bride sang Etta James's "At Last," the bouquet was thrown, caught by a very excited senior! Not to let the moment end, a young man brought the moment to another level by proposing on the spot! The mood was light, the joy was fully felt, the day was amazing, and the future awaits.
If you have just stumbled on my blog, be sure to read the first three parts of this series. You can find the Part One HERE and go from there. If you've been following along, this is the final part of the series on how to choose a photographer.
Looking for lighting issues, such as harsh light and shadows, is a key to determining if you have the right photographer for your situation. This is especially important if you live in the South, where the sun gets high fast and stays high all day!
If there are spots of bright white and dark shadows on the faces of the subjects, we have a problem. This is the epitome of the worst light and shadows. Pictures are made up of light and shadows and they are necessary to a strong image. But controlling where the light and shadows fall is the job of the photographer. You can actually help your photographer out on this one… do morning or evening shoots and avoid the midday sun. Here in South Texas, the sun gets high in the sky VERY early in the summer, then stays up until very late. In this case, 7AM and 7PM are the prime time for photo sessions to begin. Already sent out those wedding invites? Wedding at high noon? That’s okay… no, really. We’ll forgive you. It just means a LOT of extra work! It IS possible to shoot at any time of day. We look for shade. We keep the sun behind you. We avoid mottled shade so there isn’t a spotted pattern on your face. We use a bit of fill flash to eliminate those dark shadows that would have been your eyes. But if you see a bunch of images of people squinting into the sun or images where patches of faces are bright white or where the eye sockets look super dark, then the photographer does not know how to work with the light, but in opposition of it, instead. If you’re in love with the photographer and just really want that person, skilled or unskilled, then choose your time of day wisely.
And finally, it is important to ask your photographer about their gear. Why? I mean, you’ve seen the images on their website and you love them, so… why does it matter? Well, let me share… I used to shoot with a Canon 50D. Does that mean anything to you? Probably not. But it’s a GREAT camera and a higher end crop sensor. Yes… a crop sensor. There are SO many digital cameras to choose from and we start with what we can afford. And a 50D is a MUCH better camera and will produce a much better image than half of what I’ve seen out in the field. Again, it’s a high end SLR… but it’s a crop sensor. What you want is a photographer that shoots with a full frame camera. And here is why: if you plan to put a large image on the wall, a full frame camera will produce an image that will be sharp at larger sizes. Even better, what if you want a tight crop on just a child’s face? A full frame camera makes that possible. Also, a full frame camera produces images with less “noise” or “grain” in low light situations. You get a higher quality image, even without a lot of light. This is important for sharp images.
So, no, it will not matter to you the make and model of the camera. No point in even asking. What you SHOULD ask your photographer is whether they shoot with a crop sensor or a full frame camera. If they don’t know, then they don’t know the most basic thing about cameras. If they shoot with a crop sensor and you don’t want images for the wall, and they’re shooting in a very bright, well-lit situation, then you’re probably alright. But if you’re paying to have large images, to have art on your walls, then it is critical that your photographer has invested in the appropriate gear to make that happen.
I hope this series has been informative and helpful in your decision making process. When it comes down to it, go with your gut. I don’t think most people notice things like horizons and color tones. But once you DO see them, you can never “unsee” them.
You and your family change every year, every month, every day… Don’t lose those precious moments, those memories, those details. Find a photographer you trust by looking for the things that will help assure you that you CAN trust them! And when you find that photographer, let them do their job. Relax and give them the reins. Then enjoy those beautiful images on your wall!
If you haven't been following the series, you can always start here. But if you'd like to start at the beginning of this series, click HERE for part 1 and HERE for part 2.
Now on to Composition!
Oh, this is a big one and a VERY basic photography skill. There is the “rule of thirds” that is the first thing a photographer learns in class (or via the internet, if they’re self-taught). Picture a tic-tac-toe grid over your image. Those places where the lines cross… those are focal points. Our eyes are drawn to thirds. If a couple ist looking out over the ocean, they should be in a third line (unless it’s a close up, center crop). So if the subject of an image isn’t centered, then it should be in thirds. Too far to one side and the image is unbalanced. The same goes for slightly off center. So, thirds. Centering is fine, too. And there is a triangle that photographers should be looking for, as well, in group photos. The faces should form a triangle. Or several triangles. It is more visually appealing. A straight line of people lacks interest. Yes, I’m simplifying this to a laughable degree, but once you start really looking at images, you’ll start to see it and will have that “Ah-ha!” moment that will forever change the way you see portraits. No, I’m not kidding. Speaking of thirds, though… if a subject is in thirds, that leaves two thirds of the space unfilled by the subject, right? Yeah, that’s called “negative space” and it’s a good thing. Unless the subject is facing away from that space. Then it looks like your subject is leaving the image (see above). And unless that’s the message (depressing, right???), then you’ll want to always see a subject looking toward (or walking toward or angled toward, etc) the negative space. Okay, that’s a lot of compositional information to wrap your head around. There is SO much more to consider, but this will at least give you an idea of what strong composition should look like (and weak composition… run, don’t walk, if you see major compositional errors).
Speaking of errors, blurry faces are a big one! It’s a sad fact, but some people have a $3,000 camera and still can’t figure out how to focus the thing. No kidding. I’ve seen it so many times… the family is smiling and adorable, but all of the faces are out of focus… the button on the front of the kid’s shirt is sharp as a tack, but his eyes are out of focus. The baby is smiling and making the sweetest face! It would be such a great picture if the focus were on that face, and not on the knee of the baby. Yeah… the problem is rampant. Hey, we all start somewhere, right? And if you truly don’t care, there are tons of amateurs looking to build their portfolio by practicing on your family. Feel free to help them out! Seriously. We all value different things and I am not one to question your values. But we’re discussing finding a quality photographer, right? Then this is a no brainer. The face closest to the camera should be sharp. Period. If it’s a group photo, look at the eyes that are the closest to the camera… are they tack sharp? If you zoomed in, you should be able to see the lashes. No joke. Look for this… you can’t fix blurry faces in post processing. It has to be shot correctly in the camera or the image is a wash. You spend so much time and energy preparing yourself and your family for the session, not to mention the travel to and from the actual shoot, as well as the energy you put into the session itself. Choose wisely… time can be spent, but never refunded.
And since we're on the topic of spending time... posing is SUCH a huge thing and can be time consuming. Some photographers pose every aspect of the subject, while others capture natural movement. Both work just fine if you know what to look for and what angle to shoot from. I find myself doing a little bit of both. I let people do what feels natural, then move a hand, arm, leg, shoulder, face, foot, etc. until I get the set-up that looks best. But go look at images and see what you like. If you see a family photo and you’re a mom, decide if you would be happy with the angle and pose of the mother’s body and face. Because that will be you! Did the photographer notice that she was slumping? Did the tog notice that the arm was pressed to mom’s side, making it appear to be much larger than it was? Did dad have a pocket full of keys and change bulging in the picture? Attention to detail is such a huge part of portraiture and body angles are the biggest part of the details. Everyone has angles that make them look amazing. And the most gorgeous, glamorous people have awful angles (look at some of those rag magazines that trash the famous people… yeah, they’re great at finding the worst angles). Point is, you want your photographer to find your best angle! Look for awkwardness and stiffness in images… if you see it, it will be present in your images, too. Instead, find someone who is able to capture the emotions, while still finding the best angles and poses. The image should look relaxed, natural, and beautiful.
Next topic will be harsh lighting and shadows, along with how to talk to your photographer about their gear...
Let's talk color tones...
If you have not yet read the first blog post in this series on “How to Choose a Photographer,” click here and start at the first post (or not – you COULD just learn a little something about color tones).
If your session is in a green field or a green forest, all of that green acts as a light reflector and bounces the light onto your skin. This gives your skin a green cast. Unless the photographer is using white or gold reflectors to bounce the light, the “natural reflector” that is the grass, trees, or other surrounding elements will be what the light is bouncing off of and onto you. All a photographer has to do is add a bit of pink to the skin in post and it balances the green.
I am saddened when I see what would be a beautiful image completely corrupted by green, yellow, orange, blue, or pink skin tones. This is SUCH an easy thing to correct in post processing, but you have to SEE it to want to correct it. A skilled photographer has the ability to truly see all aspects of an image, from the way it is composed to the color of the skin. And honestly, some things MUST be corrected in post processing. SO easy!
Okay, okay – I get it. You don’t need to know what needs to be done, you just want amazing skin in the pictures, right? Good. Now look at the photographer’s portfolio and check those skin tones. Shrek isn’t a real person, so if you see him in the images... That goes for Oompa Loompas, too. And Smurfs. And… well, you get my point. If you see these things, find a different photographer who understands color correction.
Now, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is looking at a CD of off-color images you bought from a photographer, as long as you have the copyright release, you can pay to have those images edited properly for about $5 an image. Hopefully that’s not why you’re reading this… Hopefully you’re reading this because you’re doing your due diligence and choosing a pro!
"Lori is an exceptional photographer, and was my first choice for capturing images of my son for his senior pictures!! She made him feel at ease immediately, traveled to the locations he was interested in, and captured who he is perfectly!" ~ Tonia R.
Lori Stead is a fine art portrait photographer in Corpus Christi, TX. She enjoys creating maternity, newborn, seniors, couples, family, children, and boudoir portraits. She is also a wife, mother of four, and adventurer.