Last night (05.Sept.2011), I had the good fortune to hear Kristen Weaver speak about the last two years of her photographic journey – between amateur and photographic stardom!
I arrrived at the venue about 6pm, but PW‘s were not opening the doors until 6.45pm. So I stood and waited. The reason I tell you this is because it was the ideal time to meet and greet with other attendees. Within that short time I caught up with John Goodridge , Glynn Jackson and Jonah Sia, all of whom I have met at various photography meetups over the last five years. Were you there last night? ‘Sorry I missed you!
Before I rewrite the notes I compiled in semi-darkness, let me say a few important points:
// What I noticed about Kristen…
Kristen is adorable. She has an accent which is oh-em-gee American, yet easy to listen to all night long. Whilst she can be “highly repetitive” when describing her tips and stories, she makes up for that by reciting annecdotes and hilarity from her numerous photo shoots. We all laughed and nodded with her, because many would easily have experienced the same clientele. She had an adorable way of telling each story, inviting many chortles, sniggers and raucaus laughter at both ‘bridezillas and mumzillas’ during wedding shoots !
She admits to being no techie when it comes to using her camera. I started nodding at this point, because I know I don’t know all the Jargon. That same day I had visited PW’s to talk about actuators/recievers for slaving my 580EXII to my camera, and openly admitted that the photo-jargon for lighting was relatively new to me. I find it easier to ask for what I want, and they work out what I mean!
Kristen knows each end of her camera, and knows them well. She loves to experiment, play with the camera and test out what all the inbuilt stuff is capable of doing. Oddly, she has the same eclectic attitude that I have to photography. Whilst I have not yet had an opportunity to shoot models (other than on a few brief occasions), I have a tonne of ideas that step right outside the normal concept of human-photography. She sees ideas, likes them, moulds to them to her needs, makes it happen, adjusts her gear – and fires. And enjoys what is possible! This I enjoyed hearing.
Now you can read my notes written in the semi-darkness. With only the light of the projector-screen, I scribbled madly as her presentation appeared.
// MY NOTES
Kristen first tells us that she uses a few simple lighting devices for her portrait work:
- Strobe lighting.
- Reflectors / Diffusers – Mostly over-head to block sunlight, not alwasy to push flash lighting. She prefers natural lighting, so sometimes it is far too bright for the shot. This is a great idea!
- Modifiers – a beauty dish, and an overhead large soft box
- Ring Light. This produces a halo-effect in the models eyes.
When llighting outdoor settings, her style is simple, schweet and straight forward. One strobe which has an octobox attached, plus a diffuser in the model’s lap. When the is fired, light is then reflected in all directions. This also means that the retina of human eyes stay dark with minimal light points.
Then we were shown a series of example photos that included camera settings. My notes simply read as…
Lighting behind: 50mm , f 1.4 , 1/200
Sunlit: 50mm , f 2.0 , 1/8000
In my mind’s eye, this makes perfect sense to me. Hopefully you will understand also…?!
Her next area of interest caught the attention of myself and the few lads around me:
Natural lighting for the female form, for males, animals, anything that you are shooting outdoors.
As we all shoot more outdoor photogrpahy and less studio work, learning how to better use our environment is most advantageous.
Kristen oepnely admits to shooting much of her work with a Nikon 50mm f 1.8 prime lens . But tonight she says her new favourite lens is a 85mm f1.4 .
Her quick tips for shooting better portraits of couples are most interesting, and very usable:
1. Use leafy trees as natural diffuers, particularly on bright days. Dappled lighting through the branches makes a great diffuser. By having both the photographer and the model in the half-light of overhanging branches, less glare occours.
2. Get the model to point their chin forward. A trick I have been using for many years for myself. When you realise you have a double chin, this is a simple way to stretch the skin smoothly around the chin-bone and produce a better line. When your models do the same, this produces a few effects:
- The perfect upside-down triangle, which is far better than the pear-shaped head!.
- Less chin-skin and more shadow – which in turn can be corrected with appropriate lighting.
3. Pop the forward leg – ie, bend the knee. This will break the hard military stance that many models instinctively take, and will immediatley project the knee forward, thereby giving depth of feild to an otherwise flat image.
4. Angle the body/s so that more is seen of the side of hip, thus breaking any suggestion of excessive ‘muscle’ (KW joke!). This will make girls thinner (up to 10pounds lighter according to Kristen!) plus invite the camera into the shot.
(As you can see, the idea is to ensure the camera catpures the passsion, the scene, and the couple entwined in a more passionate embrace whilst suggesting that the photographer is not interrupting the moment.)
5. To bring the camera more into the embrace, get the shorter person ( usually the female ) who has their arms up and around their partners neck to bend their elbow closest to the camera. This not only squares-off the space between them, it opens up the area to give more depth-of-field and points-of-interest. Clothing arrangements (or lack thereof) can be displayed more creatively using this technique.
6. Many models often leave their mouths closed, their lips pursed . Kristen believes this is an attempt to look calm and un-emotional. Unfortunately this is not what we want from the model. So the trick is to open their mouth just slightly, opening their lips just enough to produce a more suggestive image. This idea I like.
7. Ensure your white balance is adjusted correctly. Kristen kept mentioning an Expodisc , and after googling have discovered this is a great gadget to keep on hand!
8. Skin smoothing is a photoshop action away : Pro Retouch. Personally I like to play with parts of photshop to find out how to achieve these actions. I like to learn new skills. But this would save a lot of time for a extreme-pro-photographer.
9. ‘Consistency’ is the key to success. For Kristen this has been to present her work in the same style nearly every time, though with amazing unique configuration of her models/brides/grooms each time. So using MCP Actions and Totally Rad Actions for additional ways to modify photographs is cool, but keep them to a minimum.
Kristen’s last page in her presentation summarised a few points throughout the evening:
1. Passion is not production. Meaning take your time to get it right, enjoy the process and don’t spend too much time in the editing. There comes a point at which you wonder if you have gone to far to perfect an image … and it isn’t. So enjoy the photography, yet be productive.
2. Understand anatomy. This relates to how people interact, intwine and can move their bodies. Kristen gave some amusing anecodotes of people who can twist their arms into insane ways. This also means eyes. Eyeliner can make eyes bigger, so when you ask them to point their chin forward, they will look larger again. Take this into consideration.
3. Limit your post-editing to 1 or 2 colour processes and 1 monochrome process. As said in  , be consistent.
4. But stay away from trends that will date your image. Post-processing is meant to enhance your work, not make it look out-of-date. Unless your client wants a neon-green halo around their body and a crayon-smudge for hair. Yet this is highly unlikely.
5. Use PS3 actions sparingly. This suggestion is similar to 3 and 4. The point is to use actions sparingly and only if necessary. If the shot popped from the camera, you may only need to increase or decrease the contrast before your image is complete.
And that is my notes filled out.
I really enjoyed the evening, though I did leave in a hurry to be on a train before 11pm. (Made it just in time!). Being able to re-write my notes is important: Now I understand more of what she said, and feel positive I can implement all of these concepts.
PS. All the photographs included are mine over the last few years. With the information learned from Kristen, I know my work will improve 100-fold!
- Lighting food with Strobes (foodservicewarehouse.com)
- Seven Tips for Better Photography This Summer (blogher.com)
- Seven Tips For Better Beach Photos (gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com)
Sounds really interesting and I like how she’s mainly used the same lens I just bought.
Hello Jen! Yeah, it was very interesting and informative. Great to hear she is using the same lens. Do you anywhere (ie Flickr) where I can see your shots with the lens?