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from the Photo Tips & Tricks category

Today’s Photography Tips and Tricks REVISITED is about something that is actually very simple to do, and adds lots of depth to our compositions and is also fun to experiment with! Layering Compositions.

Any time that you can take an image from having 2 layers (which is common in most images) and add another layer, the composition becomes much more 3 dimensional and adds impact. Many images are simply a subject and a background like this shot.
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Today we are going to talk about how to get lens flare! Lens flare is my (Jody) FAVORITE to shoot! Getting great flare can be a little tricky and take a bit of practice and tweaking, so we will share some tips that will give you the best opportunities for success to get awesome flarey goodness :)
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Welcome back once again to our Tuesday Photography Tips and Tricks..REVISITED!! Today we are talking about natural lit close-up portraits and how to get the lighting killer in-camera so it truly flatters your client. Jody and I have a simple rule when we are out with our couple’s and shooting their portraits, and that is, the closer we get to them, the more fine-tuned the lighting on their faces needs to be.

We are always on the hunt for the most awesome, soft (or indirect) light* sources that we can find that are also coming in at the correct angle to get great light in our clients’ eyes. We always want a catch light just above their pupils and are watching their eyes closely for that. But, many times when you are on location, you don’t always have the luxury of having beautiful, soft, directional light hitting your client just above the pupil.

On a lot of our shoots we need to fill in the gaps that the natural light is leaving by adding some extra light from anywhere that we can find it. On many days here in Nashville, we can have overcast days, or days where there are lots of clouds that are in and out, and even though when it is cloudy out and we have soft light, it is not always coming in at the direction that we want. Usually, on overcast days, all of the light comes straight down on top of our clients’ heads and creates those darker shadows in their eyes. Not cool!!

So, the solution to the problem is simply adding a reflector* to open up those dark shadows by introducing some soft light to them! You would think that using less light on a client would make their skin look better, but in reality, adding LOTS of soft light to their face actually hides their imperfections and allows you to do less retouching after shooting.

Imperfections are seen when subjects have harsh and contrasty light on them. Imperfections can also be more apparent when a subject has bumpy skin (aka a pimple or other imperfection) and the light set up creates a highlight and shadow area. However, by adding soft, indirect light, we actually minimize the shadows that show those imperfections and it ends up making skin look smoother (sometimes smoother than it actually is!).

When shooting in natural light, we use a reflector (or sometimes two, when we want to get super extra-awesome light and play around with attendees at our workshops) to get soft light! See images below!

So, the question is, what do I do with this darn reflector to get that look?!!

If we are out on a cloudy day, the closer we are to our subject, the more particular we get about how soft and direct the light on our client’s face is. Once we get into head-shot range, we want the most amazing light hitting our client and will do whatever we have to do to get it! (Which makes them look even more awesome and saves us tons of time in post!).

As you can see on this full-length shot below, the lighting is really nice, but if you look really close, or zoom in 100%, you may notice that her eyes could be a little brighter than they are. But, because we shot this from so far away, you would never notice that the lighting is not absolutely perfect, just really good. But again, the closer we get, the more critical it is to have spot on lighting.

In this next shot, we are really close to our client’s face, and any imperfections or bad lighting will be very visible, so it is critical to get that lighting dialed in!


Here are the steps for getting great light on a cloudy day while doing a close-up head shot:

1. Pick the location that has the best light to begin with (the light hitting our subjects is more important than the background because great light is going to make – or break the shot).

2. Position your clients how you want them and also where most of the existing light will hit their eyes just above the pupil.

3. Since most of the light will be coming down from the clouds, then position your reflector in the opposite direction of that light, or under their chin, in order to bounce the cloudy light back up into the shadow areas. (We use the gold/silver mixed reflector for cloudy days, since it bounces lots of light back and NOT the white, since white usually won’t reflect enough light on cloudy days)

4. Watch the eyes! You know the reflector is in the right position when you can clearly see the reflector in their eyes, so keep moving it around until you see that light popping!

If their eyes are the brightest part of your subject, then you are golden and going to get great looking shots. In the below close up of our previous image, you can clearly see the cloudy sky just barely reflecting in the upper part of her eyes, and the silver/gold reflector in the bottom portion of her eyes below the pupil. You also may notice the very soft shadows and smooth skin that this produces. This images has NO retouching done to it.

The image below was shot in the exact same lighting with the exact same exposure, same lens and same depth of field taken just seconds apart, but this image has the reflector removed. You can clearly see more imperfections in the skin in this shot and you can see how the cloudy light coming straight down on her creates shadows under her eyes that show every line in her face.

The above image in contrast, looks like we retouched her skin and dodged the whites of her eyes to make them brighter, even though all we did was add light while shooting.

5. Remember that the closer you can get that reflector, the softer the light will be and the less imperfections you will see on your clients faces, so get that reflector in CLOSE! (*Note for when shooting your clients: Unless they are used to having their photos taken all of the time, never start off a photo session putting a reflector all up in their mug. We always start our sessions shooting them from far away and then we work up to getting close to them. Then, when we bust out the reflector we tell them that this makes them look even more awesome and they love it).

6. Take awesome shots! :)

A few more tips for getting that creamy skin and soft light are to use a shallow depth of field, like 2.8 or 2.0, and then make sure that you have the correct color on your images by doing a custom white balance which will further help the skin look soft and buttery!

The last thing you want to do is soften the skin by pulling contrast out of your shots in post by taking down the clarity or by reducing contrast in any other way. It could seem logical to remove middle-range contrast (which is what the clarity slider in Lightroom adds or removes) since that middle-range contrast is what shows the imperfections in skin. But the reason we don’t want to do that, is because contrast is created by light and not by a computer, and if you start manipulating that natural contrast on anything other than an overall level, your images will start to look Photo-Chopped and unnatural.

You will also lose clarity on any other part of the image that has middle-range contrast and it will look like you added a soft-filter to your shots (like people did as a trend in film photography in the 90′s). Not cool!! (Try Google image searching “Soft Filter Photography” to see what we mean).

Here are a few more images from some of our weddings where we used the exact same principals to get great in-camera shots that look stellar with little or no editing. All of these were shot in either cloudy overcast days, or in soft, indirect lit areas and we simply added that silver/gold reflector to soften up the skin and add light.


Soft, indirect light – light that is not coming directly from the source (like the sun) but bouncing off of something evenly (like clouds, a big white wall, or the blue sky) that is LARGER than the source of the light in comparison to your subject.

Reflector – Material that bounces light off of itself to add light to another area of an image. Some reflectors can add soft light, and some can add harsher light depending on the material on the reflector. White reflectors bounce the softest light but reflect the least amount of light, and silver/gold reflectors bounce harsher light, and also reflect the brightest light back.


Hope you guys enjoyed this weeks tips!! Want us to blog about something YOU want to hear more about?? Email us on our photographers page by filling out the form HERE.


Welcome to today’s Photography Tips and Tricks REVISITED blog post, Lighting the Dress!

It is of course crucial that you shoot the bride wearing the dress so she looks absolutely amazing in it, but it is also important these days to get a great detail shot of the dress before the bride puts on the dress. We always strive to get a great shot of the dress because:
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Tips and Tricks..REVISITED! ¬†We had the awesome fun of shooting Stephen Knuth & Scarlett Lillian‘s promo material for their new blog site back in April, and now we wanted to take you through a few of the images and show you exactly how we did some of the more advanced off-camera lighting techniques that we used. You ready? Here we go!

Today we are going to show you exactly how we pulled this shot off in Jacksonville, Florida while shooting this promo. We shot a lot of cool shots in a local restaurant that had a really cool vibe, then headed back toward the Knuth’s place for the last set-up. On the way, we spotted this really cool metal door behind an old abandoned building, so we headed over to check it out.

This area was in the shade from the hot sun, and some light was bouncing off the sky and coming back into this open shaded area. I (Zach) knew that the in-direct sun that was coming into this area would act as a great fill-light (to fill in any shadows that we would create with the flashes), so we decided to shoot it. That is the exciting thing about flash photography, is even though the lighting here was nothing too killer, we could shape and create a look with our flashes and make it look really cool! Here is the set up.

The natural light, as you can see in the above shot, was metered at F/5, ISO 50 at 1/100th of a second. So, in order to pull of the shot, all we really had to do was set the main light one stop brighter than the existing light, then build our other lights in around the main light settings.

Does the fab Chloe Austin look cool or what holding that umbrella? :)

Now, in the above shot, you can see that the big main light (in this case we used the 7 foot parabolic umbrella from Westcott because it can light both of their whole bodies top to bottom very evenly due to it’s big size) is set exactly one stop brighter than the existing light. The existing light was F/5 (ISO 50, 1/100th of a second) and now the main light is set to F/7.1 (ISO 50, 1/100th of a second).

What this does when you power up the flash one stop brighter than the existing light, is it makes all the existing light a bit darker than our main light so that our main light becomes the center of attention and we can move that big light around to create highlights and shadows exactly where we want them.

Positioning of the main light:

Next, we position the main light so that the center of the light is just above eye level. This creates a catch light in the eyes that is just above the pupil and makes the shadows that fall on their faces go right into the correct spots. We don’t want to put the light to high and then have the shadow that this light creates to hit their noses, then fall all the way to their lips, thus making it look like they have a mustache. We also don’t want the light to be too low, which would make the shadows shoot straight across their faces and make the image appear flat. You can see by looking at the above image that there is lots of contrast and nice highlight and shadows that make the image very engaging and 3 dimensional.

Kicker Lights:

Both of our background kicker lights have Westcott Strip Banks with 40 degree grids in them. This helps the light to just hit the rim of our subjects and not shoot back into the camera and create flair (which would give away the effect). Grids help you control and shape light and do lots of things you can’t do with a big softbox or umbrella.

They are also positioned at 45 degree angles to the back and right/left of our subjects and are also coming down at a 45 degree angle, with the center of the light just above the shoulders. If we were using the sun in our shot as a kicker light, we would most likely put it in one of these two positions that the kicker lights are in. When you put the lights at these 45 degree positions, then you get a really good separation and 3d effect from your subject.

The power we set the lights to is simple, they are set to exactly one stop brighter than the main light. This makes it REALLY obvious that they are there and makes the image look much more fashion-forward and slick. The kicker lights are set to F/10.

Background Light:

The last light in the set up is the background light. This light should be set up high on a boom shooting down onto the background to stay out of the shot (that is how we do it in the studio), but being on-location we were not able to bring that much gear, so we had to improvise. We used a small lightstand, a 580 flash and gelled it with a tungsten gel to make the light turn orange for added effect. The light was metered to the same as the kicker lights, F/10. This is the one light that may need adjusting depending on how the light reacts when it hits the wall. Sometimes the light can hit shiny metal and be very reflective, so less power could be needed. This wall was moderately reflective due to the old paint on it, so it needed lots of power to give the effect. We postitioned the light so that it hit directly behind our couple and created a sort of circle of light behind them. We don’t want it too close to the wall, otherwise the light may not be even enough. The other trick is of course hiding it behind our couple so it is not in the shot.


The last thing to keep in mind is how close the lights are to your subjects. The closer the lights are, the softer and more hyper-real the lighting will look (the closer the light, the “bigger” it is and the softer it gets). Closer is almost always better and we put them as close as possible without them being in the shot. That is why they look so styled and the light looks so painted on.


Here you can see side by side the before and after from the natural light to the flash and see what an incredible difference it makes in the shot. This kind of lighting takes time to set up and execute, so doing this on a wedding is not practical, but for a fashion-style engagement shoot, a senior session and so on, it could be perfect to do one set-up like this and really exiting for your client when they see it!

Flashes Used:

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra 2 light kit (main light and camera right kicker light)

Einstein Light

Westcott 7 foot umbrella (main light modifier)

Westcott 12×36 strip bank with 40% grid/strip bank.

We hope you enjoyed the post, and don’t forget that our workshops are coming up and we will be teaching some of this content first hand! We hope to see you there!! :)