Christmas Portraits in a Living Room

I took some Christmas portraits of our girls this weekend. These were not done in a studio, just our living room. I put up a background stand and a black material at one end of the room. Then the kids were placed forward of the background 6 to 8 feet. This was done to keep the spill from the lights off the background.

The lights were one or two shoot through umbrellas. The main light was on the left and closer. The fill was on the right, a little farther away, and two stops lower. These were SB900’s as remotes. They were triggered by the on camera flash that contributed nothing to the exposure.

The trick here is getting the kids away from the background, and feathering the light to that most of the light goes across the girls creating interesting shadow, and keeping the light off the kids.

This can be pulled off in any home with enough space to get the kids off the background. With less space you will see the pattern or wrinkles in the background. If you would like pictures like these of your kids, please contact me.

Bright and Purple vs Black and White

I asked this gentleman at the playground, (we were both their with kids) if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture. I loved his hat, beard, and shirt combo. He agreed, after he asked me what kind of camera I had, and if I had a model release. After I showed him the image he said, “nice bokeh.” I was a little taken a back, but turns out he used to shoot movies.

Anyway, the above shot is pretty much what I envisioned, but I thought it would have been better without the blue car that was in the background. I had other shots of him, but I liked his eyes in this one the best. So, I tried it in black and white.

So which one do you like better. I can’t decide. The car is irrelevant in this image, and his features are stronger I think, but I miss the purple shirt.

Then I asked myself, what was my vision for this image. Good question. I knew I wanted his look without a strong background, hence, the shot at f/4.0. Actually, I thought I was shooting at 2.8. My bad. Anyway, I think I like the purple shirt. Maybe I didn’t have a clear enough vision when I took the image. Maybe I am thinking way to much about this.

I still like the shot.

Rework with a little Ziser Help

Mike & Kelly & Family

Trust me, it is a whole lot easier if you get it right in camera the first time. A whole lot easier. Anyway, I didn’t. I didn’t get all that good a picture of this family, and it was bugging me. The first problem was that I didn’t have all four of them with a reasonable expression. You gotta love groups! The first thing I had to do was to put a left side and a right side together of two pictures. Lesson learned: Keep shooting until you get a picture with all people looking forward!

The next thing I wanted was that burn and dodge effect. I tried a couple of things that didn’t work, then I remembered that I had seen a couple of things on David Zisers blog. The first one I found was this. This video post was specifically about dodge and burn. I could not quite make it work. Then I looked around a little more, and found this. I had this one bookmarked to look at sometime. It is about pulling people out and putting them on a different background. I didn’t really need something so drastic, but I decided to pull them out so I could textureize the background that was flat beige. I then used the same technique for dodge and burn that he did in this post.

I will briefly tell you, but it is better to just take a look at his video. First make a curves adjustment layer, and pull the right side way down to darken the image. Create a mask, then with a large soft brush swish through the faces to lighten them. Then use different size brushes to do touch ups. I think it worked.

David has lots of information and many many video posts. It is worth checking out.

New Born and Family Shoot

One the weekend, I got to take pictures of my first newborn. Other than my kids that is. I also got to take pictures of the rest of the family, and use my new LightDome XS. For the whole family shot I used a shoot through umbrella. Things worked out pretty well considering it was the first time with the LightDome, but I think I could have moved my light closer. It wasn’t really a good time to experiment, as I was trying to “get the shot”. Anyway, here are some of the pictures. I took over 200, and felt that 80 were pretty good. Here are just a few.



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Thanks Mike, Kelly, Adilyn and Emma for letting me take your pictures. I had a lot of fun.

If you are in the Minneapolis / St. Paul / Twin Cities area and would like pictures taken of your family, please contact me at

Photoshop Photo Retouching

I am not a pro at this. I would like to be more proficient, so last night I took it upon my self to have a go at retouching a photo. Not just the tweaking of exposure or a curves layer, but what could we do to the photo that a typical model might have done. So, here is the before picture.

portrait before¬†I thought this wasn’t too bad a picture, other than beeing a little dark. I fixed that with a curves layer. I chose the lighten preset. I don’t think I even tweaked it.

What I really wanted to do was things like smoothing the skin, whitening the teeth, and lightening the eyes.

First off, I thought that her skin was pretty good, but I knew that she had complained about not smiling too much because she didn’t want lines in the photos. He she has a nice smile. We can fix the little lines.

First, I selected the healing brush. There were a couple of little marks on her face that I wanted to deal with first. CTRL-click near the mark, then click on the mark it’s self. Done.

Next, the skin smoothing. First I created a new layer by copying the background layer. (Command-J) Then I went to the filters menu, and picked gaussian blur. I set this to 20%. The whole picture looks blurry, but that’s OK, we will apply this to only part of the picture. First lower the opacity of the layer to around 40%. You can adjust this later when we are done. What we need now is a layer mask. Add one to our new layer, then click the white layer mask, and fill it with black Command-Delete. Now the blur should be gone. We will now “paint” it back where we want it. Select a soft brush, that is not too big. You may want to zoom in on the picture. You can change the brush size with [ and ] on the keyboard. Now paint over the skin you want to smooth. Do not get the eyes or mouth. When you are done, play with the opacity of the layer until it looks how you want it.

portrait after You can flatten the layers. Now to the teeth. Her teeth are fairly white Рbetter than mine! Select an area of her mouth, making sure to get all the teeth, but some of her mouth is just fine.

After, create a new adjustment¬†layer for hue/saturation. When that dialog appears, click on the “Edit” dropdown and select Yellows. We are going to remove any yellow cast. Move the saturation slider all the way to the left. Yellow be gone. Now you can move the lightness slider to the right a little. Not too much. They need to stay natural.

If you have a lightened ring around the lips, we will need to fix that. The process is similar to that of the skin. We need to fill the layer mask with black. Click on the mask, Command-Delete to fill with black, and all our work will be un done. Now paint with white in a soft brush before just over her teeth.  Tada! You can flatten the image when done.

Only thing left is her eyes. First was the little bit of red eye. I selected the red eye tool, and clicked on the center of her eyes. Easy. Next was to whiten her eyes. I created a new copy of the background layer again, but this time I picked Screen for the blending mode. The picture immediately got ugly. That’s OK. Once again, create a layer mask, fill it with black. Then zoom in really close to her eyes. You will need a very fine brush to do this. Paint the whites part of her eyes. If you make a mistake, select a black foreground color, and “erase” your mistake. Sometimes this is the easier way to do it. After you are done, zoom out. Her eyes will look scary. You need to adjust the opacity of this layer downward. Move this until they look normal, but brighter. Select/un select the layer to see the before/after of this effect.

There you have it. I probably should have sharpened it too, but I was so proud of myself that I completely forgot. Oh well…

70-200 at the Studio Lighting Class

I missed posting for a few days. It is time for the next studio class, and I am just getting to putting up some pictures from the last class!

I got the chance to use my Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lens. That thing is very nice. I liked that I was able to stand back a bit and not be on top of the model. I had taken some pictures before with my 55-200, but these turned out sharper. I wish I could remember exactly what type of lighting we were doing with each of the models. Some of the lighting techniques woked better than others. I have some of the images turned into prints to bring to class tomorrow. The “models” in the photos are others from the class. The people that were supposed to sit in the chair didn’t show up.

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