Back Light vs. Direct Light

My favorite time to shoot is when the sun is low in the sky.  I can shoot with the sun behind me, so the light is shining directly in front of my subjects — called direct light.  Or I can have the sun behind my subjects, so the light shines behind them — called back light.

There are also many other types of light, but today I am only talking about these two.

Which one to use is mostly about artistic preference.  And sometimes, you don’t have a choice, like if you’re shooting an event with a designated time, so it’s important to know how to shoot in both kinds of light.

Okay, with that said, I have a preference

Who knew?  Apparently, my clients!  haha.  When I’m on a shoot, I don’t shoot with my head as much as my heart, so I usually look for moments and images that tell a story or create beautiful lines and shapes.  I didn’t think I had a preference in light direction, until…

My recent Boat Shoot.  I was boarding the second boat and heard my clients tell the captain to get into a position where my clients’ boat was backlit.  The captain quickly turned to me like that must be wrong.  I just nodded in agreement and probably wore a surprised look on my face.  Gosh, my clients know me well!  :)

Here are some recent side-by-side examples of back light versus direct light (displayed in that order) of the same subjects, during the same shoot, shot within minutes apart, so you can see the differences.

Example 1

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Example 2

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Example 3

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Example 4

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*PHOTOGRAPHY TIP*

As you can see, there are significant differences between back light and direct light.

There are also merits in both kinds of light!  Back light is more moody with softer colors, but also have softer details.  Direct light has more vivid, saturated colors with greater details, but also has shadows.

If you could choose, which light do you prefer?

How to Shoot in Low Light

I love light and airy images.

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Sometimes the weather doesn’t provide glorious sunlight like the one above.  Womp womp.  (That’s the sound of the wrong answer in those old game shows – haha!)

Maybe it’s foggy with no sun.

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Or it’s evening.

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Sometimes my shoot is indoors, and most venues don’t have glass ceilings like this one.

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In fact, some places will be dark, like really dark.  Think small apartment in the city with one window.

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Or an indoor market packed with people on a rainy day.

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Or in a dark corridor of gum.  Okay, that’s just gross.

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I took most of these example photos during my trip to Seattle a few months ago.  This is how the photography tip came to mind…

We went inside Chihuly, an art museum of glass installations, and the only lights were ones carefully positioned towards the artwork — so it was very dark.

I watched visitors photograph the gorgeous delicate glass…with flash.  They’d look at their photo at the back of their cameras with disapproval and take the same shot again.  I wished I could’ve said something, but it wasn’t my place.  So I closed my mouth and popped my eyeballs back into head, and decided to put this tip together instead.  LOL

This tip is simple and can even help phone camera photos!

*A SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON*

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EXPLANATION

Image A = AUTOMATIC.  In low light, your camera will detect it is dark, so when it is in Auto, it will want to brighten the image to what it thinks the exposure should be on a regularly lit day.  By doing so, it can trigger the flash or reduce the sharpness of your photo by slowing down your shutter to attempt to let in more light.  The result = a photo I’d delete.

Image B = No flash and PARTIAL AUTO (ie, shutter-priority or aperture-priority).  I let my camera guide me to what it thought was “proper exposure” for the art installation without the use of flash.  The result was pretty good.  However, if I look closer at the image, I can see some detail of the glass was lost.

Image C = MANUAL, no flash, and slight UNDER-exposure.  To capture the most detail in the glass work and the true shade of the artwork’s color, I under-exposed the image by 1 or 2 stops.  The result is a more dramatic, striking image.

 

LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY TIP

Start by taking your camera off Auto, so you have more control of the settings.  [If you're using your phone, you can turn off your flash.]

When there is low light, consider underexposing your image to get your desired result.  You can do that by changing one of the elements in the exposure triangle — such as, decreasing your aperture (increasing your f/) or increasing your shutter speed.  If you want a refresher, here is an article I wrote many moons ago (with cool drawings from my daughter):  Understand Exposure in Under 10 Minutes.

[You can even do this on your phone!  When you have the image you want to photograph, using your iPhone, touch the screen, and then carefully move your finger in a downward motion on the screen to lower the exposure.  Other smart phones work similarly and also allow for some manual setting changes.]

 

Want more tips about light?  Here are a couple more:  Low Light+No Time and Editing with Different Light Sources.

If this tip helped even 1 person, I’d be thrilled!  xo, annie

Behind-The-Scenes of a Boat Shoot

I love tight shots of people because, as a viewer, you get a sense that you’re sharing in a private moment.

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In every shoot, I also like to step back once in awhile to get an environmental shot because these images give context to a story.

Some locations, however, provide movement limitations, like a small room, a crowded location, or a sailboat in the middle of the San Francisco Bay!

So during my September boat shoot, Rachad carefully coordinated with a good friend to meet us in the middle of the bay.  His rescue boat was small and fast, so we could maneuver around my clients’ large sailboat.  It was thrilling FO SHO because — and I’m only spelling this out because I didn’t know this myself — the boat engines can’t be turned off on the water; the boats are always moving.

All this excitement brought me back to the days I jumped out of airplanes, dove into pitch-black caves underwater, backpacked in remote areas of Southeast Asia, and trekked through rainforests at night to find noctural wildlife.

Behind-the-Scenes #1

Getting on the rescue boat and back on the sailboat while both boats were moving was the most daring part of the whole shoot because there was nothing stable to hold onto, no area to step in the rescue boat, and the boats were at different heights.

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We zipped in front of my client’s moving sailboat, along side it, and all around it.  Salt water, wind, and my hair whipped against my face while I tried not to fall out of the boat whenever we hit a wave.  All the while, I was scrunched in the front of the boat and had to twist my body to get the angles I needed.

Think:  human pretzel!Annie-Tao-photographing-from-rescue-boat-BTS-instax-film

What I Shot #1

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Behind-the-Scenes #2

Here we were along side the sailboat while Rachad’s family was getting into position.  We had to maintain the same speed and race around to get the perspective I needed.

You can see the waves we generated from zipping around, and also the smiles!

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What I Shot #2

Rachad tilted his boat intentionally to show off the sleek lines of his new boat.

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This is what it looked like on-board!

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Behind-the-Scenes #3

Returning to the sailboat meant I was dryer and warmer.  Ahhhhh!

I stayed low to the boat — either sitting or squatting — as to not fall out when there was turbulence.  Here I am with little Maya, whom I’ve known since she was a baby.

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What I Shot #3

Being at the boat’s nose, I could capture multiple layers of imagery when facing backwards.

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I also walked towards the middle to get closer shots, making sure to shoot through things in order to get cool foreground bokeh.

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[If you want to see more Behind-The-Scenes (BTS) action, check out:  BTS of a Maternity Shoot, BTS of a Senior Shoot – Jalin, BTS of a Styled Shoot – Crystal, BTS of a Children’s Shoot – Little Princess.]

That’s all the Behind-the-Scenes I have for now!  Wishing you all a great week.  xo ~annie

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Behind-The-Scenes of a Maternity Shoot

I love Maternity Shoots because I get to capture the magic that is creating a little human!  There is also fun in documenting the soon-to-parents and their excitement about what is to come.  Here is more insight into how I handle these specialized sessions…

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Photographing pregnant women is unlike my usual Family Shoots where I am chasing after little kids and being more of a “fly on the wall”.

First, I turn into a big sister (I can’t help it!) and will ask her repeatedly if she is feeling okay to walk up a staircase or if she needs to sit down.  Then, I am more intentional with my shooting angles because I want to show off the baby bump.  So typically, that’d be directly from the side or from the top.  If I’m feeling adventurous, I may shoot from below for an upward view of the belly.

The type of light I look for is backlight that creates a golden outline around the belly, which emphasizes the beauty of pregnancy.  I also like even light (like shooting in an open shade) for portraits of my pregnant mama because that is flattering on the skin.  I’ll avoid harsh shadows at all costs.

In a Maternity Shoot, I have more luxury to craft the images I want to create.  ❤️

Check out these BTS (behind-the-scenes) images to see what I mean.  Thank you to Christine’s husband, Kevin, who took these photos during the shoot.

Behind-the-Scenes #1:

I chose this area because it was a quiet spot at a popular park.  There were tall trees that intercepted the bright sun, which softened the light.  I had Christine stop in the brighter spot on the path for a side profile shot of this gorgeous mama-to-be.

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What I shot:

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I took most of this series in color to show the golden sunlight.

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Behind-the-Scenes #2:

Kevin probably thought I was cray-cray when I was leaning over Christine from behind.  If you were there, you’d hear me say:  “I promise I’m not taking a photo down your wife’s dress!”  It was pretty funny.

There is definitely an element of trust that needs to exist when you’re on a photoshoot, especially for Weddings, Maternity Shoots, Newborn Shoots… and Lifestyle Shoots in someone’s home.  Okay, so that’s most every kind of photoshoot!  You also need chemistry between the photographer and subjects, which I talk about here.

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What I shot:

Baby bumps are unique to each woman and each pregnancy, so I like to capture the shape of the belly from different angles.

A side view would show how round it is, while a top-down view would show if the bump is narrow or wide.

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If you want to learn more, you can select Photography Tips under the Blog menu or click here.  Don’t forget to say hello!  I read every comment.  xo annie

Behind-The-Scenes: Jalin

It’s time to take a peek behind-the-scenes (BTS) of one of my shoots!

Here’s some background:

Jalin loves the city, so she knew she wanted to have the shoot in the city.  We started at the crack of dawn.  Nah, I’m kidding.  It was dark though because of the fog that is typical of San Francisco mornings.  The air was brisk because the fog that sat over the city completely blocked the morning sun.  I came in full Winter gear.  My childhood friends from Massachusetts would shake their heads if they saw me in my thick scarf and jacket with thumb holes because it was in the 50s.  :)

Behind-the-Scenes #1

We started at this restaurant that hadn’t opened yet.  I liked the outside of the building, so we walked around to find a good spot, and then…

I spotted the fog rolling under the bridge.  Knowing that the light changes every minute, I threw out the wall idea and had Jalin sit with her coffee.  There wasn’t much time to reorganize the tables and chairs; we only had time to wipe her chair from the morning dew and pull a couple chairs out of the way.  The disarray of the rest of the furniture ended up being a representation of life, and her stillness in the chaos was symbolic, so we loved it.

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What I Shot

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[Specs:  ISO 320, f/2.5, 1/8000 sec, morning sun, dense fog]

Behind-the-Scenes #2

The light was so cool because it was early enough that the sun was low in the sky, thereby providing a glow on one side of Jalin’s face; meanwhile, the fog acted as a diffuser, so the sunlight came in soft.

Once I captured the environmental shots (Jalin with the bridge and fog), I moved up to get some close-up shots of this beautiful High School Senior.

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What I Shot

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[Specs:  ISO 3320, f/2.2, 1/4000 sec]

Behind-the-Scenes #3

We walked over to one of the piers.  There were locals fishing at the end, the fog was clearing, and it was starting to get really bright.  Bright sun means shadows and higher contrast images, which isn’t ideal for portraits.  However, I love the lines on piers, and we wanted to shoot the cityscape.

To make it work, I used a reflector to brighten the shadow on Jalin’s face.  I also shot into the sun.

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What I Shot

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[Specs:  ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/6400 sec, bright full sun on the right of subject, reflector]

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[Specs:  ISO 250, f/1.4, 1/8000 sec, bright full sun behind subject, intentionally 'blew out' the image to soften the shadows]

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[Specs:  ISO 250, f/1.8, 1/8000 sec, full bright sun to subject's left, embraced the contrast!]

Behind-the-Scenes #4

Doopdeedoop….we’re just walking by a construction area and you know what they say about how life is about the journey, not the destination?  Well, that’s true in Photography as well.

I loved the urban vibe of the wire fence, and the “danger” signs were really cool.  They are symbols of life’s many crossroads, am I right?!!  ;)

The BxW BTS shot shows what is behind Jalin:  not much!  I angled my camera to completely miss the messy area and shot wide open to blur it out.

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What I Shot

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[Specs:  ISO 400, f/1.4, 1/3200 sec, open shade, late morning]

Behind-the-Scenes #5

I had this idea that Jalin could stand very still while crowds rushed by her, but that never happened.  We waited for awhile, but it was a Sunday, which meant less foot traffic.  The light was also not super interesting, so I found that BxW pulled the image together best and made Jalin stand out the most.

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What I Shot

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[Specs:  ISO 800, f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, indoors, low light]

Behind-the-Scenes:  Tada!  

We just finished, so we took a quick pic.  That’s the proud mama who is also my friend on the left, the beautiful Jalin, and yours truly.

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If this is helpful to you, you can check out my BTS of Crystal or this one of Katy and Tammy!

Embracing Lines

Have you ever noticed how many LINES there are at the playground?

From years of shooting, I — regardless of whether I want to or not (haha) — notice lines, patterns, light and shadows wherever I go.  If you see me checking my watch, it’s most likely because I am memorizing the time I should shoot in that location because I like the light!  If you see me squatting down, it’s probably because I noticed that a lower perspective changes the lines of something I’m looking at, or I like the way the light hits something from that angle!

Sure, that’s a little wacky, but as one of my favorite cartoon characters would say:  I yam who I yam! 

That brings me to my periodic quick tip!

PHOTOGRAPHY TIP:
Look out for lines.  Embrace them in your photography.  Once you really, truly notice them, find ways you can incorporate them into your photograph.

This can be at any location, but during a recent shoot, we stopped by the park’s playground for the last half hour or so.  It was really fun to let the kids run around, and everywhere, I saw lines, patterns, and light.

Below are some examples.

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My Everything Bag

I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of person.  I love boots, hats, flip flops and sunglasses.  I rarely pick up fashion magazines because I don’t care to follow trends.  I wear what I love, what feels good, what makes me feel good about myself.  Maybe that’s not even really “a style”, but that’s how I choose what to buy and what to wear.

So when I was online one day and stumbled across this bag that perfectly sums up my style AND happens to be a camera bag… omg. <3

Today, I took it out for a spin for the first time and decided last minute to take photos of it — so don’t judge my flat hair.  ;)

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Here is what I love about this Kelly Moore (Collins) camera bag:

- It’s made of thick canvas and genuine leather.  This makes the bag sturdy, and not too heavy.  The dual material gives it an urban edge.
- The shape of the bag allows it to be slouchy, but the material makes it rigid enough to hold its shape.
- It has lots of metal buckles, studs, zippers, and lots and lots of pockets!
- It has a lined, padded interior with adjustable/removable dividers to protect my gear.
- The bag has a removable long strap, so I can choose to hang the bag on my shoulders or carry it by the handles for a different look.

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My favorite part…

It has a separate area (a zipped pocket on the outside) for my wallet items!  In my last lens bag, I had to put my cash, keys and cards in one of the lens compartments, which meant they sometimes fell out because I would need to reach into the various slots to find what I needed.  With this bag, it’s right there on the side, and I don’t need to dig around or touch my gear unnecessarily.

The extra wallet area makes this bag a fantastic accessory for everyday use, not just for shoots.  Yup, this will be my bag for everything:)

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To get more information about this bag, click on this link (go to Canvas collection and click on Collins).

[FYI:  Kelly Moore did not contract me to write this or give me the bag.  I bought this because I was looking for a new camera bag -- one that will last longer than a year and one that doesn't actually look like a standard camera bag.]

How to Choose a Photographer

When you want to hire a photographer, there are many factors in your decision-making.  It could be the talent and expertise of the photographer.  It could be value, if you are on a budget.  It could be the artistic style of the photographer.  It could be the type of shoot — ie, posed in studio vs styled with props vs lifestyle/photojournalism.  It could be one thing or all of these things.

The part many people don’t often think about is chemistry.

I know this isn’t dating!  ;)  But your chemistry with your photographer makes a huuuuge impact on the end result:  your photos.  It impacts how much you can relax and be yourself — which is, to me, THE most important part of your photoshoot!

How you feel during your shoot will show in your eyes, your smile, your shoulders…in how you move and interact.  Unless you are a professional model or actor, you will be aware of the camera and the photographer, and thus, need to have good chemistry with that person.

How do you determine chemistry if you haven’t met them yet?

For starters, you can get a good sense from how they communicate with you in emails, texts or on the phone.  Do they make you feel at ease or like you’re bothering them?  Read their blog to get a feeling for their likes and dislikes, and whether they’re serious, quirky or casual.  How do they describe their photoshoots, clients or themselves?  You can generally tell if you will get along or are vastly different kinds of people.

For me, the main thing I want for my clients is to be themselves.  Whether that means telling jokes, singing a song, sitting and chatting, or making fart sounds with their mouth!  hahahaa…that hasn’t happened yet, but you never know!  It doesn’t matter what it is exactly, as long as they are being real.  Don’t subscribe to what you think I want or what you’ve seen online somewhere.

Do YOU.  Be YOU.

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Pom Pom Bouquet

Wanted to share this fun DIY pom pom bouquet I made for our Beach Room.  (Yes, I named many of our rooms because…well, why not?!!)

I made pom poms with my kids, collected sticks around our neighborhood, washed a bottle from a drink I had, and used shells the kids gathered on the beach last Summer.

I love the result!  The bouquet gives the room a touch of whimsy and fun!

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How is this related to Photography?

Well, it isn’t.  But it turned out to be because I decided to photograph it.  So it became a mini shoot of an item, like a Product Shoot.

If you’re ever needing creative inspiration or have time in your busy schedule, I encourage you to try it on an everyday item or a special item, if you prefer.  It can be anything, even a fork.  Really.

Task yourself with finding a way to shoot that item to make it look its best.  Give yourself a time limit.  What kind of light will compliment that item the most?  Where can you place it?  How would you arrange it?  What angle would you shoot it at?  What settings would you have?  How would you compose the image?

This is a great 5 minute activity that can be helpful for any experience level!  I’ve been doing this for years to spark creative juices, and these mini shoots have helped me on my client photoshoots.  :)

Setting Up Families for a Lifestyle Shoot

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Michael F. asked me a fabulous question after reading my latest Behind-The-Scenes post, so I wanted to share the Q and A!

His Q:

I thoroughly enjoy your images, and your comments are wonderful. But I’ve always wanted to ask how you “stage/setup” your models/families. You mention in this blog using stories to create an atmosphere, but is that also how you have your lifestyle families work? Do you mind sharing how you interact with your families to create the powerful images you share on your blog? What do you say, how do you direct them, etc.? Thanks so much.

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My A:

How I structure a Styled Shoot is vastly different than a Lifestyle Shoot.  The main reason for that is a Styled Shoot requires my subjects to look relaxed, but their poses don’t have to appear “natural”, whereas in a Lifestyle Shoot, I want my subjects to FEEL comfortable, LOOK relaxed, and HAVE natural poses.

For this reason, I limit how often I direct them and am careful with how I word my directions.  (If you give them too many directions, it usually results in stiff poses and forced expressions.)

What I do is direct them to “hang out” in areas that I know will photograph well — such as, areas with nice light and areas with an interesting backdrop.  What they do there is up to them.  That way, the result is nicely lit, interesting images with natural expressions and real interactions.

Every child, family, person…they are all different and unique, so there isn’t one magic thing you can do or say to get powerful images.  Instead, you have to understand whom you’re photographing, and work with their personality to get the images you want.  I do this by communicating a lot with my clients.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say there is a family with a toddler and a preschooler.  The parents are nervous about their first professional shoot, so they stand around and look stiff.  In this case, I may tell them to pretend I’m not there, and just play with their kids like it’s a regular weekend morning.  Usually that’s all I need to do to get things flowing.  In rare instances, the parents may still not know what to do with their children, so I may give them some ideas.  Such as, “Does your children like playing _____?  Have you ever done this _____?  Maybe you can _____?”

Usually that sparks ideas for my clients, and they remember how Little Nancy loves to twirl when there’s music or how Baby Joe laughs whenever they throw him up in the air.  The key is to not tell them what to do, but rather, offer suggestions, so their actions are natural.

My end goal is to create beautiful images of my subjects in their natural element.  I want their expressions to be real and want them to be sooo comfortable that they reveal their personalities and even emotions.  <3

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