BetterPhoto Q&A
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Photography Question 
Caiti M. Goeden
 

basic needs


hello again everyone!! what is the basic equiptment for doin amateur at-home portraits. my main subjects are babies and toddlers. I already have a minolta maxxum 400 si, a tri pod, and film haha (duh!!), and not much anything else. I could definatley use you help!


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8/7/2005 6:23:19 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  Before you spend a lot of money on lighting equipment, I would recommend that you work with natural light. I started out that way, and you can actually get really outstanding results with it. Make sure to turn your on-camera flash OFF (I dare say that it will NEVER produce a professional quality portrait), place your model near a window at an angle, and shoot them about 5 feet in front of a backdrop (a plain white or black sheet will work fine) or wall. You will be surprised at what good results you can get with such a simple setup. Here some photos I took with such a setup:
Three Girls
Bride
Couple 1
Couple 2

Once you learn how to work with light, it might be good to get some studio lights so that you don't have to depend on natural light. Hope that helps!

Nancy


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8/7/2005 7:50:20 PM

 
anonymous 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/7/2005
  Nancy,

They are great natural light photos! Very impressed. I have one natural light photo in my gallery, it is the last photo of a little baby called Isaac.


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8/7/2005 9:01:25 PM

 
Michelle Ross
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/1/2004
  Your Bride shot is beautiful Nancy .. . I'm doing another Senior Portrait shoot on Tuesday and have a place to do some natural light stuff. . . the last time I tried it worked but not like I had thought . ..I will try using a backdrop behind them though . . . last time I relied only on the wall and it didn't look very good. . . I think I will also move them further from the window instead of right next to it. . . did you use the natural light as side lighting??


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8/7/2005 9:06:01 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  Thanks Natalie & Michelle!!

Natalie-- you have some really lovely portraits! I found Isaac, and he is adorable. Your Dimples portrait is my favorite-- what a wonderful expression! Excellent work.

Michelle- you know I love your work. :) Yes, the window was up and to the left of the bride. I have come to prefer side lighting (or at least have the window as an angle)... I like the partially shadowed look; it's a little more dramatic. I'm not sure, but it must've been a north-facing window because the light was so soft and perfect. Try to use a north (or south) window if possible to avoid direct/harsh light. Good luck on those!

Oh, and I made a backdrop stand for myself out of PVC pipe from Home Depot. Cost me a total of about $5, works great!

NC


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8/7/2005 9:18:40 PM

 
Michelle Ross
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/1/2004
  Thanks Nancy! The window I have is a north window so hopefully it will work. . . it works best of a morning from what I've experience this far. I have a backdrop stand that came with the lights that I bought so that isn't a problem. . . I also have a PVC one I made but it's not as sturdy as I want it to be. . .if I had some sand bags it would work fine.


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8/8/2005 5:13:07 AM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   thanks nancy! i'll try that. in my gallery..big blue eyes is one with a shower curtain as the backdrop and I used a window and a ceiling fan for my lighting.
can you give me specific instructions on how you built your backdrop stand? that was going to be one of my next purchases but since pay as much and I could make it myself that sould help a lot!! thanks again!
caiti


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8/8/2005 9:22:21 AM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  Hi Caiti-- Ok, I'm going to try to attach two pics with instructions on how to make it. Let me know if you have any questions. You should be able to find all this in the same aisle at Home Depot. You can decide at the store how long/tall you want it. Just keep in mind that you need to make it even bigger than you think you need it. (if a kid is 2 feet tall, you probably need a stand that is at least 4 or 5 feet tall if s/he is going to be several feet in front of it.)

Your niece is adorable... hope you can get more cute pics! Just remember to turn your flash off (looks like the flash fired in that pic, you can tell from the skin and the eyes)... whenever the flash fires, it overrides any other lighting you are using and does not create a flattering effect. Let me know if I can help with anything else... happy clicking!

Nancy


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8/8/2005 11:58:26 AM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   nancy, I couldnt find the attached photos so maybe you could just email them to me. (caiti_mo@yahoo.com). thanks.


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8/8/2005 12:52:56 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
 
 
 
Oopsies, I just totally forgot to even add them...!


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8/8/2005 12:58:30 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
 
 
  Backdrop stand
Backdrop stand
© Nancy Grace Chen
Canon EOS 10D Digi...
 
  Schema
Schema
© Nancy Grace Chen
Canon EOS 10D Digi...
 
 
Ohhhhkay... onnnnne more time... :)


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8/8/2005 12:58:57 PM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   ok thanks nancy!! now the bottom bar things hold up good right?? I dont want to injure any of my "clients" by having a backdrop stand fall on them!!


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8/8/2005 1:07:13 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  You're welcome, Caiti! Yeah, they always worked fine for me, but I usually kept my models a few feet in front of it. You might want to do like Michelle said and get some sandbags if you want more stability... especially if you want to go taller (my stand is 5-6 feet tall, can't remember exactly).


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8/8/2005 1:09:55 PM

 
Laura E. OConnor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/12/2005
  The other option for stability that I've seen is to get some of that quick-set cement mix that you add water to. Put the stand's vertical posts in large coffee cans, then fill with the cement mixture and let dry. (I suppose you could wrap the cans with fabric or paint them white to blend them in, if you wanted to, too.)


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8/8/2005 1:39:53 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
 
 
 
I would say that if you have an external flash you can bounce then by all means use it in conjunction with available light. It will help eliminate harsh shadows, especially if you use a cheap attachment like an omnibounce. It can produce very soft and natural results. I've included some examples (I touched up photos for the mom, but lighting can't be produced very well in PS if you have bad lighting to start with!). I'm still discovering bounce flash, but it really helps, especially indoors.

Karma


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8/8/2005 2:08:34 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
 
 
 
Here are samples of fill flash:


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8/8/2005 2:10:20 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
 
 
 
Here are samples of fill flash:


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8/8/2005 2:11:21 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  Here are samples of fill flash:


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8/8/2005 2:12:28 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  Oh forget it! They are in my gallery right now, the ballet pictures. I REALLY wish BP had an option to enter to a discussion thread via member gallery!

Karma


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8/8/2005 2:14:04 PM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   thanks laura and nancy!
karma, thanks and what exactly would be external flash?? would it be the accessory flash that you can mount on? I love your pics!! htey look great, I love when photographers have the main pic then a face shot up in the corner. I always love those!!anyways thanks again!


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8/8/2005 6:48:56 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  Yes, that's right. An external flash you would mount to your camera, or you would get a cord and place it somewhat away from your camera. I've only used mine actually on the camera (420EX speedlite). I use mine with a little plastic cover that diffuses the flash called an Omnibounce.

Oh, and thanks--I'm glad you like. My backgrounds are very basic so I always have to touch them up in PS! LOL

Karma


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8/8/2005 7:29:46 PM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   ok...would an accessory flash make the subject really pale. my nephew is EXTREMELY pale. thats why I have a hard time taking pics of him cause I only had darker backgrounds. andyways backt o the question...would it make them even more pale???


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8/10/2005 2:40:47 PM

 
Caiti M. Goeden   one more...maybe... what exactly is a light meter thingy and around how much does it cost I have a minolta maxxum 400si wiht no accessory flash.
thanks!! ***caiti


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8/10/2005 2:45:35 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  Here's my two cents on external flashes. If you have your lighting right, I don't see how it would be necessary to use an external flash... I personally use external flashes when doing journalism-type work, where it's your best bet for having some control over the lighting because you don't have any other choice. But like I said, one shouldn't have to use it if you have control over your ambient lighting (as you would in a portrait session). I am open to hearing other opinions though... I don't mean to be dogmatic, but that's just my understanding of it.

An external flash shouldn't make a person more pale if you expose correctly. Just don't get overly close, and bounce the flash if you can (point it up at the ceiling or a side wall to diffuse the light), like Karma suggested.

Nancy


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8/10/2005 2:50:35 PM

 
Collette Photography
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/21/2005
  Just thought I would jump in here, cause everyone is giving such great suggestions!!! Ok, I was asked to do a photo shoot for a guys senior portraits, they will be outside, so, I know that I will have to do them either early in the morning or later in the afternoon (which is probly what Ill do) But here is my question, should I get an attachable flash for my camera for this or not? I have a Nikon N80 film SLR, with a pop up flash, but that never works well for me. Im used to doing portraits inside with my studio lights, so I just want to make sure that the pic. dont come out dark, so any suggestions as far as that goes would be greatly apprectiated!!!

thanks!!

-Collette-


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8/10/2005 3:06:17 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  If you basically want sidelighting or some other "focused" area of light you don't need fill flash. But fill flash is great for evening up light and making cathclights pop. It is wonderful for reducing shadows. I use fill flash a lot now on the recommendation of professional portrait photographers and I think my work has improved as a result.

The problem with avialable light is you often don't have great control over it. Very few people have a suitable avaialble light studio in their home and building one is daunting. You can go outside, but what if the weather is bad? With one "okay" window and fill flash you can do wonders. Take the examples in my gallery. The availble light was a garage door about 15 feet away from my subject. WIthout the fill flash my subject would have been shadowed heavily on one side, which is nice for some photos but would have lost detail on the girl's costume and wasn't what her mom wanted. Had I placed her towards the light and stood in front of her I would have blocked light so I could not have gotten stright on shots. So fill flash gave me the photographer back some control. In a very adverse lighting situation I managed to pull off some shots the mother loved--all thanks to fill flash. And I know you can achieve professional results because MANY professionals advocate fill flash.

Karma


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8/10/2005 3:38:57 PM

 
Nancy Grace Chen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/18/2004
  Thanks for the info, Karma.

Collette- I've done several outdoor shoots, and I've never found the amount of light to be a problem. You may want to have some 400 speed film with you in case though.

NC


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8/10/2005 3:46:37 PM

 
Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  Hey all, i'm not good with flash photography and terms but lets say caiti's shooting our nephew with an accessory flash and since he is so pale, couldn't you do this: you could turn down the flash exposure compensation right? lets say she's shooting him, couldn't she turn her FEC down about a stop or 1 1/2 stops? this would help give a not-so-harsh light, right? i'm asking this because i'm pretty sure caiti has an accessory flash but she just needs the shoe adapter for her camera because hers doesn't fit now.

or how's this setup:
(this is saying she gets her external flash working properly) i've heard of people setting the camera on full manual and set it at around f/6.7 @ 1/60-1/90 or so and then you turn your flash on automatic or something, what's the term for this?, then the flash automatically fires at the correct strength to properly expose the scene. am I close to being right or am I just confused, possibly confusing others. thanks for the help.

.justin.


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8/10/2005 4:33:49 PM

 
Karma Wilson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
  I set my fill to one or two stops - depending on the subject. Check your histogram for burn outs. I want to emphasize that if your available light is sufficent to light your subject without shadows and detail loss don't use fill. Save it for times that available light is just not sufficent. Then use exposure compensation to get the correct amount of fill.

Karma


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8/10/2005 5:03:42 PM

 
Jennifer Berndt   I love reading all of these suggestions... but what if you are ready to buy lighting? Can you give us an idea of basic lighting needs? Thank you!


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8/10/2005 7:42:27 PM

 
Laura E. OConnor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/12/2005
  I actually used what Nancy originally suggested for all of my early portraits/candids, and a lot of my recent ones. No flash and a lot of sunlight! In most cases, I didn't use a backdrop, but really didn't want one. Angel in Sepia in my gallery was done that way, so was Blue Curiosity, Sweetness and Light, Simple Pleasures, Summertime Sunshine and Shadows on Sunshine, Warmth as well as others.

Nancy... I wanted to put links like yours, rather than just post all the photos, but can't figure out how. Can you e-mail me instructions on how to add a link to a comment or thread? THANKS!

Jennifer, how much do you want to spend on lighting? I just bought a studio lighting kit online (with a really good recommendation) that I'm practicing with and loving so far!


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8/10/2005 8:16:42 PM

 
Jennifer Berndt   Laura,
I don't mind spending as long as it's been tested by someone that I get to talk to :-) I'm always worried about getting ripped off...
But I think I want a steady light rather than flash to begin with...


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8/10/2005 9:20:15 PM

 
Amber D. Jones   Ok I know this is like way up the page, but my fiance'and I built my backdrop stand as well. We built mine out that L-Shaped light-weight metal (also from Home Depot). It has like, little holes in it, so we bolted it together and made it so that it could be portable. It's probably about 7 1/2 feet tall, so when we go somewhere and it needs to be shorter or when we're transporting it, we just undo two of the bolts and it folds over. We also put wheels on it so it rolls around. It's great!!!


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8/11/2005 5:49:28 AM

 
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