Category Archives Photo Shoots

Figure 5

Happy Friday everybody! Today I’m going to break down the  simple one-light bridal portrait you see above (camera settings, lighting and post production). Keeping it simple like this is ideal because it lowers the bride’s stress and yours, too. Plus, by just using one simple light you can focus on emotion and expression rather than fussing with a bunch of lights (it’s another one of those “less is more” things).

In this beautiful small church, there was a short hallway leading to an exit door, and some storage closets, but the doors were a vivid red color, and I thought that would contrast beautifully with our bride (who had a white dress and a pinkish bouquet). I thought we’d try posing the bride in that short hallway, but getting a light in there with the bride, without being seen in the shot, would be kind of challenging.

Lighting Gear
I used just one small flash head running an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit, which consists of a very lightweight battery pack (I believe it’s about 2-3/4 lbs.) with a strap on it so you can just sling it over your shoulder, and a very small, very lightweight flash head (literally just 10 ounces ). This is one of my “go-to” rigs for location lighting because:

(1) It’s very lightweight and portable — it all fits in a small carrying case that’s smaller than an airline carry-on,

(2) You get studio-quality light and a much brighter, more powerful light than you would with a hot-shoe flash,

(3) It has a built-in wireless trigger and lets me control the power of the strobe from right on my camera (the other matchbox-sized trigger sits on my cameo’s hot shoe mount),

(4) You can use two strobe heads with just this one pack if you decided you did indeed need a second light. And..

(5) …it’s designed so I can use any of my studio softboxes with it, and in this case it was a small 24×24” Elinchrom Rotalux square softbox.

Figure 1

Above: The Hallway with the red door. 

Here’s an over-the-shoulder view of the short hallway with red doors I was talking about. It’s actually much darker in the church that it shows here – this behind-the-scenes production shot was taken in Aperture Priority mode at a high ISO, so these behind-the-scenes shots look properly exposed, but in reality it was quite a bit darker, especially in the hallway, which was lit with just a few harsh overhead floods).

Figure 2

Above: Finding a place to hide the softbox was a challenge in this tight hallway, so we opened a closet door and had our 2nd assistant tuck-himself inside the doorway a bit to keep the soft box from extending into the frame.

If you look at this behind-the-scenes image, you can see me sitting in the pews, quite a-ways back from our bride — that way I could capture either tight or full length shots. The position of the light was pretty standard: at around a 45° angle from the bride, up higher than the bride and aiming down at the bride.

Figure 3-2

Above: Here’s the shot that resulted from me shooting full length from out in the pews. I’m not super-digging it, and it took a lot of post-production to tame the red light spilling everywhere and tinting everything, so the search continues for a better shot. 

GRIP TIP: We normally use a monopod for shoots like this (it’s easier to “run and gun”), rather than a lightstand with legs, but since we started our shoot using a lightstand in the back of the church, we just kind of picked it up and kept shooting. Normally, we’d prefer to have the strobe mounted on a monopod for faster and easier mobility between pews, and in tight situations. The only downside? You have to keep holding a monopod — it doesn’t “set down” very easily (there are no legs and feet) without crunching the soft box, so you wind up leaning it against things, which means you run the risk of it falling over. It’s a tradeoff (like everything, right?).

The Lighting Problem with the Red Door
I wasn’t happy with how the overall color looked because of how the light was reflecting off the red door. So, I thought we’d try one where the bride would be backlit, with just a little of the light spilling over onto her.

Figure 4

Above: Back lighting our bride 

I left the bride in the exact same spot, but I had our 2nd assistant take the strobe and softbox move to the other end of the hallway to position the light behind her and off to the side (so it’s pretty much the same lighting set-up — 45°-ish angle, up high aiming down, etc. it’s just positioned behind the bride this time, as seen above).

I did crank up the power of the light for this backlit shot, because I wanted to make sure it was powerful enough not just to put a rim of light around her shoulders, arms, etc., but that it also spilled over enough so you could see her face. I also made sure to have the bride turn her head and body toward the direction of the light. Had she been looking the other way, we wouldn’t have had enough light spilling on her face or bridal gown.

Camera Settings:
I shot in manual mode, so I could make sure the shutter speed didn’t get past the normal sync speed (this pack lets you do hyper sync, but I shouldn’t need to do that in a dark hallway), so my shutter speed was 1/60 of a second (I normally use 1/125 of a second, so I have to imagine at some point I accidentally hit the dial on the back of my camera). My ISO was set to 100 ISO (the cleanest ISO on my camera), and my f-stop was f/5 in case there was any background visible behind my subject, it will be a little bit soft. Using such a wide-open f/stop meant keeping the power of the flash at less than 1/4 power most of the time.

Post Production:
Light picks up the color of whatever it hits, so when white light hits a red door it reflects red light. Once I saw the color image of her backlit, it looked very red from the reflected light, so I knew right then it was a candidate for being converted into a black and white image.

Figure 6

Above: Converting to Black & White in Silver Efex Pro 2

I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in to convert the image to black and white (I used use one of their built-in presets — my three favorite preset choices are (in no particular order): (1) Full Spectrum (2) Fine Art Process and (3) High Structure Smooth, so I usually wind up choosing one of these three.

Figure 7

Above: Adding the Duotone look in Lightroom CC

Once I converted the image to black and white in Silver Efex Pro 2, I added a Duotone look in Lightroom using the Split Toning panel, but then only moving the Shadow controls; putting the Hue at 25 and the Saturation slider amount at 21. Don’t touch the Highlight settings up top or the balance slider — this is all done just using the Shadows Hue and Saturation sliders, so leave the other stuff untouched. It works wonders (and prints beautifully, by the way).

Figure 5

Above: Here’s the final image with the Duotone look applied in Lightroom (same as the opening shot).

Hope you found that helpful, and I hope your Tuesday is already off to great start! . :)



P.S. I’m up in Boston with my seminar on Wednesday, March 30th — just a few weeks from now. Hope I see you there.  

This is the written tutorial of something I did in my course on using Westcott Speedlight Modifiers over on KelbyOne, and the trick is a very effective, location lighting technique for a formal portrait of the bride, and part of the technique is done in camera, and then the other part in Photoshop, and the good news is — both parts are really easy (but the final result is really sweet!).

Westcott Wedding 1sm

Above: Here’s the final image with the light hidden

The Lighting Set-up
We’re only going to use one simple hot-shoe flash for this technique. Lately I’ve been using the Phottix Odin hot shoe flashes, and I’m super-digging ’em as their just released new Phottix Odin II TTL Flash Trigger is hands down the easiest hot shoe flash transmitter I’ve ever used (it even has hard buttons for each group, which makes it incredibly easy to change groups, turn on/off flash, change the power [using a simple dial], etc.. Very smartly designed, and the price is right, at around $209).

Then, we’re going to use a collapsible softbox made for hot shoe flash — it’s the 50-inch Recessed Mega JS Apollo from Westcott (around $169 street price) Note: anyone who has been to my “Shoot Like a Pro: Reloaded” seminar would recognize this bad boy!

Figure 2

Above: The flash is mounted inside the softbox on a light stand, and then it aims inward at the back of the softbox, and the light returns back out toward the subject, giving you softer lighter without a bright hot-spot right in the center like usual.  

There are five really nice things about this softbox:

(1) It’s pretty huge, and the bigger the softbox the softer the light, so when I have a choice, I go “big” like this.

(2) It’s collapsible like an umbrella, so despite it’s large size, it’s super-portable, lightweight, and sets-up fast.

(3) The flash aims backward — toward the back of the softbox, not directly at your subject, so the light reflects and bounces back toward your subject, which avoids a hot-spot in the center and creates even softer more wrapping light all the way around.

(4) Since it’s so large, you can light groups with it

(5) For a softbox this large, $169 is really a bargain.


Camera Settings
When I’m shooting with flash, especially indoors like we are here at a very popular venue for weddings and wedding receptions, I’m setting my ISO at the lowest, cleanest native setting for my camera, which for my Canon 5D Mark III is 100 ISO. Since I’m using flash, I’m always shooting Manual mode so I can get my shutter speed at what I would say is a very safe, kind of “default no worries” shutter speed for flash, which is 1/125 of a second. Lastly, my f/stop is usually around f/5.6 if I want the background a little soft but in this case I went with f/4 (I probably accidentally hit the dial on the back of my camera at some point and it moved my f/stop).

The lens I’m using for this particular shot is in vast contrast to the price of all the lighting gear, because it’s a high-end lens — Canon’s new 11-24mm ultra wide-angle lens shot at 11mm (which is just insanely great). Of course, you don’t have to use this lens (but man is it sa-weet!) — any nice wide angle will do the trick (like the 16-35mm).

You’re going to take Two Shots. Shoot this one first.
First you’re going to position the light right near your subject, in this case I’m positioning it right next to our bride and as you can see from the production shot here, the lighting isn’t aimed directly at her — it’s kind of aimed a bit past her so the light is just skimming her a bit. That way, the light is more subtle and softer because the light that’s hitting her is from the edges of the softbox, instead of from the center (you’ve heard this technique referred to as “feathering” the light). You can also see my photo assistant Brad “The Beard” Moore standing by as I take the shot. This is important (more on why in just a moment).

Figure 4

Above: Here’s the shot with the softbox fully visible in the image. That’s OK – you’re supposed to see it in a wide angle shot like this, but it won’t be there for long. 

Then comes the 2nd shot
Once you take that shot, where you can clearly see the softbox, ask your assistant (or friend, or friend of the bride) to pick up the light (it’s not heavy) and move it far away so you don’t see the light at all in the scene, and take your second shot. You want to keep your camera up to your eye the entire time, so minimize your movement between frames. Of course, if you’re shooting on a tripod, it doesn’t matter — you can theoretically take all the time you want, but you need to tell your subject (the bride in this case) to please hold her pose until you’ve taken both shots, so you don’t want to take too long between shots.

So, the process is this:

> Get your light in place
> Take the first shot, and keep the camera up to your eye.
> Have someone move the light out of the scene quickly and take the 2nd shot. Pretty easy stuff.

Figure 5

Above: Here’s the second shot, once the light has been removed. All you’re getting is the ambient light in the reception hall and no light from the flash. 

The post processing part is easy
Now open both images in Photoshop. Go to the image that has the bride lit by the flash; select all and copy that entire image into memory.

Figure 6

Above: Open both images in Photoshop; copy the shot with the flash in it into memory. 

Now go to the image with no flash (the ambient light image) and paste that image with the lighting visible right on top. If you used a tripod, you can skip this step and go on to #8, but if you handheld the shot (like I did), you’ll need to have Photoshop automatically Align the two images so they were perfectly aligned with one another.

You do this by going to the Layers panel; selecting both layers, and then go under the Edit menu and choose “Auto Align Layers” as seen below. When the Auto Align dialog appears, use the default setting of “Auto” and click and in just a few moments your two images will be perfectly aligned. Note: you’ll need to slightly crop the image to hide the white edges created by the alignment, but we’ll do that later.

Figure 7

Above: Paste the lighting shot onto the unlit shot, then select both layers and use Auto Align Layers to perfectly align them. 

Go to the Layers panel and click on the top layer (the layer with the lighting). Next, hold the Option key on Mac (the Alt key on a Windows PC) and click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it’s the third button from the left). This adds a black layer mask over your entire layer, so the lit layer is now hidden behind that black mask, which is exactly what we want. Now, get the Brush tool and choose a small soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker up in the Options Bar at the top of the screen. Make sure you Foreground color is set to white. Now take the brush tool and simply paint over the bride and now she appears “lit” as you’re revealing just that one part of the lit image layer that was hidden behind that black mask (this is similar to the trick we used last issue for creating a cityscape at dusk).

As long as your bride isn’t close to the background in the shot, you won’t have any trouble painting her in — it’ll take all of five seconds. If she’s close to the background, then you have the worry of spilling light onto the background as you reveal the lit version of her. You can still do it, you just have to be more careful, take more take, and use a smaller brush.

Figure 8

Above: Add an inverted Layer Mask (hold the Option key on Mac, or the Alt key on Windows, then click the Layer Mask icon) to the lit layer; take a brush and paint over the bride in white to reveal the lit version of her in just that area. No spill on the ground, or the walls, or anything.

The last step is to use the Crop tool to crop away those white edges created by the Auto Align move. Lastly, I hate to say just “Add contrast” but — add some contrast in Camera Raw; sharpen the image, and you’re done.

There ya go: Some camera work, some Photoshop work, and a beautifully lit final image without spending a bunch of money.

Hope you found that helpful, and if you’re a KelbyOne member and want to see the full video on it, here’s the link.



P.S. Next week, I’m coming to New York City with Part 2 of my “Shoot Like a Pro: Reloaded” seminar. Hope you can join me. 

Mornin’ everybody – here’s a few quick things to start your week off:

  1. A quick tutorial on getting soft, beautiful portrait lighting using continuous lights

The video above shows a super-simple way to use continuous lighting to create really soft, beautiful light, and I show two variations, including adding a second light for more of a beauty-headshot look. It’s a clip from a KelbyOne online class I did on using Westcott continuous lighting and their soft boxes. To watch the full online class, follow this link. 

2. A couple of shots from Yesterday’s Buc’s vs Saints Game



Above: I was happy to see two of my shots made the Sports Photos of the Day picks for the wire service I shoot for. The Bucs lost a game they shouldn’t have lost (again), but the Saints played a great game. One thing: is it really supposed to be 82° outside for a mid-December game? Even in Florida, that is…well…super hot. When does “football weather” arrive?

3. I’m interviewed by an Italian photography Website


Luckily, the interview is in English — if you’ve got a sec, here’s the link. 

That’s it for this morning (and isn’t that enough?). Hope you all have a great Monday, and hope you’ll pop by again tomorrow. :)



Happy Friday, everybody! Today I’m going to share five very short trailers (each around a minute or less) for online classes you can watch this weekend over at, including three classes from me.

BTW: If you’re not already a KelbyOne member, you can watch all five of these classes (and all the rest for that matter), for $19.99 (the cost of a one-month membership). Well, truth be told, you could just sign up for a 10-day free trial membership and watch them all for free (but don’t tell ’em I told ya). ;-)

Here they are:

Above: Location Lighting
That’s my class on location lighting – shot in four difference places for four different types of shoots. I’m using the Elinchrom ELB-400 battery pack and flash, but as many people online have said, you don’t need that set-up to learn a lot from this class.

Here’s the link to the full KelbyOne online class

Above: Shooting Fashion on Location with Frank Doorhof
This is an awesome class from Dutch fashion photographer Frank Doorhof, shot on location in Amsterdam, on how to shoot, pose, and work with models. Frank rocks!

Here’s the link to Frank’s full online class at KelbyOne

Above: How to photograph and create fun Holiday Cards
In this brand-new class RC shows you how to make way cooler Christmas Cards this year by not only creating the images yourself (instead of using the Mall Santa), but using Photoshop to create something really clever, really unique, and something your friends will be talking about.

Here’s the link to the full online class on KelbyOne

Above: How to design Holiday Cards in Adobe Illustrator (with Pete Collins)
I know I said it’s only 5-trailers, but this one kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous one since these are Holiday-specific classes. Pete shows you how incredible easy it is to create really clever custom holiday cards in Adobe Illustrator (and if you’ve never used Illustrator, but you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, this is your chance to start using it).

Here’s the link to the full online class at KelbyOne

Above: Location Lite: High end look – low cost budget
I called this class “Location Lite” because the goal was to make it look like we shot on locations, but we really did it on the cheap and indoors, keeeping our budget at $300 (including the hot shoe flash itself, the modifier, and even the background). I’m hearing from so many people who have fallen in love with this class – you’ll dig it.

Here’s the link to the full KelbyOne online class.

Above: Retouching Brides
If you’re a wedding photographer, this one’s definitely for you, but even if you just do portraits, you’ll pick up lots of Photoshop retouching techniques in this class that you can use in your portrait work.

Here’s the link to the full KelbyOne online class.

There ya have it – lots to watch this weekend, and hope you learn a lot. :)



P.S. Make sure you check out my portrait lighting “fix” tutorial today over on – I show how to take a technique we normally use for Landscape photos and repurpose it for portraits (see below).



Figure 1sm

Today we’re looking at a location shoot I did using nothing but natural light, but in this case we have to give Mother Nature a hand using an inexpensive trick that has big results. Although natural light can be beautiful, natural light is from the sun, and by its very nature, the sun is usually a pretty harsh light source (well, except for a short time about twice a day). So, we pull out one from our bag of tricks to help us make that natural light soft and beautiful.

We are on location in an abandoned old Mansion out in the middle of nowhere, Florida (I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, and I’ve never been to the town where this mansion resides — the town is called “Howey in the Hills” and this was Mr. Howey’s personal mansion back in the day.

I asked my wife Kalebra to do the art direction for the shoot, handling everything from picking the models, make-up, outfits, hair, and makeup, to directing and posing the shoot on location — that left me (and three assistants) to focus on nothing but the lighting and shooting.

Figure 2

I love the compression a long lens brings to the image, and you can see how far back I am from our subject in this over the shoulder view from my shooting position. I’m using a Canon 70-200mm lens f/2.8 lens here (that’s my go-to lens for portraits), and I’m usually shooting in the 150-200mm end of the lens, but to get the wide look I wanted, including the awesome location in the scene, I had to shoot at 70mm.

After a few test shots, I was already battling with her face being too bright. The storyline for the shoot had her looking out the window, so sunlight would be falling directly on her face. Here’s the narrative my wife came up with for the shot (which was told to the model in advance, so she’d know the story we’re having her play out with her gestures): “Everything she once knew has fallen down around her and now, Prince Charming has walked out the door but even as she falls trying to hang on to him (and searches the window after him) there is grace and hope still left in the light.”

So while the model and my wife Kalebra are working on the posing, clothing, and gesture, I’m trying to tame that harsh sun falling directly on her, and I’m even getting highlight clipping warnings on her face (I’m shooting at f/2.8 so at least I can soften the background behind her a little bit. I would have to zoom in much tighter to get the background way out of focus, which I did on some of the shots, but not the ones we’re looking at here).

Figure 3

Our trick is to turn that big harsh window light into a big beautiful softbox, by putting up a frosted shower curtain liner over the window (these are very inexpensive — only about $6 at Target and even cheaper at Walmart where I’ve seen them for $1.99. If you look at these shower curtain liners, they pretty much look just like the front diffusion panel of a softbox. Anyone who attended my first “Shoot Like a Pro Tour” learned this very trick — to keep one of these in your camera bag (they fold up really small) for situations just like this (and of course, we had one with us at this shoot as well, for —you guessed it —situations just like this).

It’s important to note — this is NOT a shower curtain. It’s the frosted liner that is sold separately that goes inside the shower curtain in a real shower.

Figure 4

Above: This is Brad using Gaffer’s tape to cover the bottom part of the window (the part hitting our model directly) with the liner.

Gaffer’s tape was invented in Hollywood for use on movie and TV sets because when you use it, and remove it, it doesn’t take the paint with it, or damage any surfaces, and it doesn’t leave a messy residue. It’s really pretty magic for stuff like this and we always have a roll with us for (wait for it…wait for it…) situations just like this (and a thousand other reasons). You can find Gaffer’s tape at any large camera store (I get mine from B&H Photo around $6 a roll).

Figure 5

Above: From this angle you can see the liner covering the window

From this angle, you can see the liner going right over the window, and you can even see in this behind the scenes shot, the light looks pretty soft now.

Figure 6

Above: Here’s the reverse angle view so you can see how far back I am from the subject at my shooting position. You can see the window covered with the shower curtain liner, but from the angle I’ll be shooting at it, it won’t be visible at all. 

Figure 7

Above: Here’s a closer look at my TetherTools shooting rig — I always try and shoot tethered like this on location if at all possible — seeing your images full screen as you shoot makes a huge difference.

My Camera Rig:
I’m shooting a Canon EOS 1Dx, but I could have just as easily used my 5D Mark III (the results would be pretty much the same since I’m shooting at 100 ISO with my camera mounted on a Gitzo Mountaineer tripod.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m using a Canon 70-200mm lens. I’m shooting in Aperture priority mode at f/2.8.

I’m supporting my laptop with a mounting bar from Manfrotto, and the laptop table is from a company called “Tether Tools” and they specialize in tools for tethering (I know, that was pretty self-explanatory). They also make that long Orange tethering cable (it’s orange so it’s more easily seen in a dark studio environment so you don’t trip over it), and I’m tethering directly into Lightroom on a Macbook Pro.

Figure 8

Above: A BTS from another shot that we tried; same location, different view.

Once we got the shot you saw at the beginning, we went for a different look in the same location (compositionally). I’ve moved a few feet over to the left, so the center of the room. You can also see two important accessories in this shot: (1) A powerful speaker system for playing Pandora radio from our phones. We feel that music on the set is very important, and the models love it, and it helps set the mood. We played some classical to get us in the mood, then we switch to whichever type of music the model likes best (that’s our rule — the model chooses the music — if they’re hearing music they love, it comes out in the image). And (2) a floor fan. We don’t want to blow her hair around, but we want it to move it just a little to add some volume to the hair, and it really makes a difference. Later in the day, we wanted the drapes blowing, so we cranked it up, and had two assistants right outside the window fanning the drapes with two large diffusers to make them blow, but that’s normally not how we use the fan — it’s just to add a little movement and volume to the model’s hair.

Figure 9sm

To create an epic feel for the image, I switched to a Canon 16-35mm wide angle zoom, and positioned my camera way down low to get a low, wide perspective. The fan is just out of the shot, so you don’t see it in the frame. We moved the couch much closer to the camera, to add more depth, and get the subject closer in the frame, so using the 16-35mm let me get lots of the floor and ceiling in the shot even with the subject and couch much closer to my shooting position.

To finish up: I hope this article gave you some ideas of how to control harsh natural window light (if it indeed is harsh), and some compositional ideas as well, and a few other little tips along the way.

That’s it for this chilly Florida Tuesday. Thanks to everybody who came out to my Tampa seminar yesterday — definitely one of my most-fun crowds of the year. Looking forward to visiting new cities next year, starting off in Richmond and Atlanta in late January — hope I’ll see you there.



P.S. RC and I taped a “20-days of Christmas” series where each day we post another holiday gift idea — everything from lighting to camera bags and software. If you scroll down a few days here on the blog, you’ll see the first five or six, and we post a new one every day (including weekends). Hope you find them helpful. :)


Hi Gang: On Wednesday I’ll be heading up to New York City for something I really look forward to each year — Photo Plus Expo. It’s a huge photography expo and conference, and I love seeing all the new stuff from vendors, and seeing all my industry friends, and heck, I just love New York, so it’s all good.

Here’s my teaching schedule for the week: