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I am a Houston area photographer specializing in family, children, and portrait photography. If you would like to set up a session or have questions about pricing, email me at

Friday, January 14, 2011

Questions Answered!

I was so happy to hear from you all! I'm excited to answer all the questions you had for me. Just keep in mind, that this is all my interpretation of things that I've learned. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few things I've figured out so far.

Q: I've gotten a couple questions, just asking about the basics. What do I need to know if I'm just starting out?
A: The one recurring thing I've seen while looking at photography sites and blogs is to shoot in manual mode. Don't let the camera be in control! There are a few basic things you need to know for manual shooting to be successful.
1) It's all about light!
Lighting is oh so important when taking pictures. In order for your camera to actually take a picture, there needs to be light. The lighting in the environment you are shooting can have a great effect on how your pictures turn out. I always shoot either in the morning or evening when the sun has just risen or is just about to set. Unless, of course, it's cloudy outside. Then anytime will do! The reason for this is, if you shoot in direct sunlight (if you aren't using fill flash, diffusers, light bouncers, etc.) you will get weirdy shadows on people's faces.
2) Shutter speed
Shutter speed is pretty self explanatory. It basically means how long the shutter of the camera stays open. The longer the shutter is open, the more light is let in. When using long shutter speeds, you should probably use a tripod and make sure your subject isn't moving or you will get some blur. When I am doing a photo shoot, I like to keep my shutter speed at 1/100 (one one-hundredth of a second) or faster. That way I can eliminate any blur from camera shake or subject movement.
3) Aperture (f-stop)
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens where the light comes in. Aperture is measured in "f-stops." The smaller the f-stop, the more wide open the lens is. Kind of confusing in theory, but it makes sense when using your camera. For example, I do a lot of my shoots using a 50mm f/1.8 lens. The "f/1.8" refers to how wide open I can set the aperture. If my f-stop is a 1.8 I am letting in the most light. Lenses that have the ability to open up wider are better in low light situations.
4) ISO
ISO is basically how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. Back in the days of film photography you had to buy different kinds of film to get different levels of sensitivity, but with digital cameras you are able to change the sensitivity level of your sensor depending on the lighting situation you are in. You have to be careful with this, though, because if you set your ISO too high, your pictures will be grainy. As a rule of thumb, I don't set my ISO any higher than 800. The lower you can set it, the better.
Did you notice that shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all determine how much light is let in to take a picture? It's all about light! Obviously, there is a lot more to all of these things than I wrote, and my limited knowledge comes from reading and talking to other photographers. There are a ton of resources out there to help you learn more about your camera!

Q: How do you get so much blur in the background?
A: There are many ways to get blur or bokeh in the background of your pictures. The easiest way is to get a lens that has a low f-stop (allowing the aperture to open up wide.) A wider aperture will give you more blur in the background of your pictures because it shortens your depth of field. The lens I use to get the bokeh in my pictures is the 50mm f/1.8. If you don't have a lens that opens up this wide, set the f-stop as low as it will go and make sure your subject is close to you and the background is far away. You can still get good blur this way. For example:
This picture was taken with a lens that can only open up to a f/4.0. It still has some pretty good blur going on in the background because I was pretty close to the tree branch, and the background was fairly far away.

Q: What do you do to edit your pictures? How do you get the colors to pop?
A: I've discovered that post processing is almost as important as the actual picture-taking. The way you edit a picture can make it or break it. Let me walk you through the post processing of one of my favorite pictures:
This is the picture straight out of camera (SOOC). Not too shabby, but it could use a little somethin' somethin' to make it better. I've found that pictures SOOC don't have the contrast and color brightness that I'm looking for. Editing really helps to enhance this.
The first things I do are some simple RAW edits. I use the RAW editing software that came with my camera, but everyone says Adobe Camera Raw is amazing. I'll probably switch over, but I'm comfortable with the way I've been doing it :) Anyway, the only things I have done here are to bring up the sharpness and bring down the shadows. See what a big difference there is already??
The next thing I do is convert the RAW image to JPEG and open it in Photoshop. With a picture like this that is close-up and focused on the eyes, I really want those baby blues to pop, so I start with giving them just a bit more sharpness. To do this use your elliptical selection tool and make a rough selection of both eyes.
Hit "command+J" on a mac to put the selection on a new layer. Then we use the "smart sharpen" tool.
Dial in the sharpness so that it looks natural and you're done! (with that step) See how the eyes pop more now?
Now, I do one more step on those eyes. I use the Coffeeshop action "Eye Bright." See the subtle difference that makes?
Now, all this picture needs is for those colors to really POP! For this, I love the Coffeeshop action "Lustrous Pop." It was a little intense when I finished so I dialed the opacity down to 65%. Ta Da! There you have it!

Q: How do you turn your photos black and white? How do you get it to look so natural?
A: I love Pioneer Woman's "B&W Beauty" action.

Q: What lenses would you recommend?
A: There are SO many lenses out there, and most of the really great ones are super expensive. My husband and I have spent many an evening reading lens reviews, deciding how we want to spend our money. The thing we have discovered is that lenses hold their value really well, so if you decide to invest in an expensive lens, it should last quite a while. We recently purchased the 17-40mm f/4.0 L. It's pretty amazing. In the next few months we hope to get the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, and I would like to upgrade my 50mm f/1.8 to the f/1.4. It all depends on how much money you want to spend. The lens I would definitely recommend if you don't have hundreds of dollars to drop is the 50mm f/1.8. From all the reviews I have read, it's the best bang for your buck lens. You can get really sharp pictures with good bokeh. Here is a good site to go for more lens reviews and recommendations from someone who knows a lot more than I do!

Q: Where did you do the shoot with the train cars?
A: In Lehi, Utah behind Osmond Designs. It is the BEST location I have ever been to and I really want to find a place like that in Houston!

Q:How did you go about starting your business and how did you find clients?
A: Well, first of all I knew I needed to build a portfolio so I offered free photo shoots for a while. I set up a photo blog and posted all my pictures there. Once I felt like I had a handle on what I was doing, I set a date that I would start charging people. I set my prices pretty low at first. My first paying client happened upon my blog on accident, and after I did her pictures, she referred me to some of her friends. Most (if not all) of my business so far has been from word-of-mouth. If anyone has any other suggestions about how to bring in new clients I would love to hear them!
I hope to continue to grow and expand!

Q: What locations do you suggest for a couple shoot? How do you choose your locations?
A: It depends on what your clients are looking for. In Houston, I think downtown is a really fun place to shoot couples if they want a more "urbany" feel. I'm doing a couple shoot next month in Hermann park and Rice University that I think will be fantastic! I have a few places that I like that are close to me--Rice University, Old Town Spring, Hermann Park. In Utah, I really like the orchard and the rock amphitheater at the state mental hospital in Provo. When I go to a shoot in an area I'm not so familiar with, my clients usually choose. Don't they do a great job?!

I really hope this was semi helpful! I would love to hear feedback. Writing this down definitely helped me understand things a little better! Like I said, there are countless resources out there to learn more about photography. If any of you seasoned photographers out there have anything else to add, please leave a comment! If anyone has any other questions don't hesitate to email me!


  1. Photography litterally means "writing with light" TOTALLY agree lighting means everything, I think the next most important thing is the lens. you can buy the nicest SLR but without a good lens the images are blech.

  2. Nicole,
    Your photos are beautiful :) Maybe one day when I'm in TX again I'll call you up and you can do some family photos for my family in Dallas!

    Take care

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