Today’s post comes from extraordinary surf and landscape photographer Chris Burkard, who we recently featured in our short film, Arctic Swell. Chris has made it his life’s work to find wild, remote destinations and then capture the juxtaposition of humans in these environments. The world is an oftentimes harsh, humbling, and magical place, and Chris wants to photograph it all.
He shares his essential night landscape tips below. You can browse his portfolio and print store on his site.
It’s hard to beat the enchanting feeling of star gazing at a clear night sky. You soon become lost in its beauty like a giant kaleidoscope full of shooting stars, planets, and glow from the setting sun or nearby cities. I’ve traveled to countless countries over the past ten years and some of my fondest memories occur long after the sun has set. Whether it’s camping near my home in Big Sur or witnessing a rare northern lights show in the Arctic, I’ve had the privilege and challenge of documenting these night landscapes.
My introduction to night photography happened when I took a road trip in 2006 along the entire California coastline. My friend Eric Soderquist and I spent over two months on the road in his Volkswagon bus in search of waves in every California county. The trip was later turned into a book, The California Surf Project, and looking back through its pages you can see some of the early stages of my night photography. Camping under the stars literally every night made me that much more appreciative and eager to capture the beauty of the night sky. Fast forward 8 years and I’m still drawn to these dark moments where my friends and I are huddled around a campfire in Iceland or getting lost in the magic of the northern lights in Norway. Photographing in the dark certainly requires some adjusting but here’s some tips to prepare you for the next time you’re shooting night landscapes.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 1: Get Away From the City
The farther you are from city lights the clearer you will be able to see stars and the less light pollution you’re going to have. The photo pictured above was shot in Big Sur, CA a few hours from any major cities.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 2: To Infinity!
Set your focus to infinity or focus on far away light sources to make sure you get the sky in focus. If you want to focus on your subject shine a light on them.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 3: Trial & Error
Don’t be afraid to test settings to see what works best. The beauty of working with digital cameras is that you get instant feedback. I usually open my aperture as wide as it will go (f/2.8 or wider) and then vary my ISO depending on how bright the sky is. In this particular photo I exposed for 30 seconds at f/1.8 and 400 ISO. I like to keep my ISO as low as possible.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 4: Frame Up
Remember that the sky is your hero in the photo. Try framing the sky in the upper 2/3 of your image and then vary your angle depending on the scenario. With the northern lights creating a really dramatic light trail I framed up. You could do the same with the milky way or stars in general.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 5: Expose Long & Short
Long exposures are going to leave you light trails and short ones should make the stars nice and sharp. Try both methods for variety in your imagery.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 6: Bring a Headlamp
You can use a headlamp to light up your tent or even light paint a tree or waterfall. Practice the amount of light that you are shining out of your headlamp because it is easy to wash out the picture with too much light.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 7: Add a Subject
Adding that human element to a picture can give it a sense of perspective and depth. Play around with where you place the subject in your frame. The less busy your framing is the better.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 8: Mind the Moon
If you want to have clear stars shoot underneath a new moon or when the moon is below the horizon. If the moon is out you can play with the effects that it can have on your photograph. Use it to backlight trees or your subject but be careful not to let it wash out your picture.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 9: Use a Tripod
Or a rock or the hood of your car. A tripod is you’re most crucial piece of night photography gear. Joby makes great camping tripods cause they are small and packable. I also recommend a remote so you can make sure your shots are even more stable.
Night Landscape Photography Tip 10: Stay Up Late
Night skies are often darkest and most active late into the night. I’ve seen tons of meteor showers and northern lights shows way past midnight. Set an alarm and wake up if you have to or use a remote to take photos periodically throughout the night.
Check out our short film, Arctic Swell, to see Chris Burkard and pro surfers Patrick Millin, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig brave sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Circle.
Links to love:
CJ Kale and Nick Selway long ago fell in love with Hawaii and founded Lava Light, a photography gallery focused on capturing the ever-changing landscape created by an active volcano and crashing waves—and sometimes both together when the conditions are just right.
And if swimming with fire and dodging lava bombs weren’t challenging enough, these photographers believe in creating their images completely in camera. Balancing exposures between sky, water, and lava can be incredibly tricky.
Luckily, Lava Light has shared some tips to help you get the shot without combining exposures or using HDR.
Photo Tip #1
To capture lava and stars together, put a neutral-density (ND) gradient filter on your lens upside down to balance the extreme exposures between the lava and stars.
Photo Tip #2
When photographing lava in the daytime, use the ND grad right side up to balance the light from the sunrise, because the sun will eventually be brighter than the lava is.
Photo Tip #3
For front-lit scenes, a hard ND grad balances light from a bright sky and a dark foreground, allowing you to darken the sky and deepen colors. For example, in this shot I used a polarizer to intensify the rainbow, but it left the sky a fraction too bright. So I added a 1-stop hard ND grad across the entire sky to darken it and get its depth and color to match with the lava and everything that’s front lit below.
Photo Tip #4
To capture the little curvature of a wave, a shutter speed around 1/3 of a second is usually enough to get a little light blur to the water but keep that shape in the wave.
Photo Tip #5
If you’re trying to capture a really misty feel, where the water almost looks like fog, use a 2- to 3-second exposure.
Photo Tip #6
Since we capture everything in camera, sometimes we have to compromise on exposures and accept some clipping of highlights or shadows. So maybe a rock by the lava won’t have any detail in the shadows because I want to capture the detail in the lava instead, and I prioritize my exposure for the lava.
Photo Tip #7
Prepare the right gear for the day. My normal, hike-out-to-the-volcano kit includes a Nikon D800e, Canon 5dMkIII, 16–35 L lens for Canon, 14–24 for Nikon, a 50mm and an 85mm prime, and a 50–500 Sigma telephoto. Because sometimes you want a wide-angle shot, like the rainbow and lava, and others you want to zoom in on the drip, which requires a telephoto.
Check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Lava Light below. Thanks for the tips, Nick and CJ!
Find Lava Light online:
This is part 1 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copy writer for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives us three major ways to avoid getting glare and reflections when taking portraits of subjects wearing eyeglasses. SmugMug’s own Katherine Cheng and Michael Bonocore served as her bespectacled models.
All example images were lit and shot using the following:
- Broncolor 1200Ws Two Litos Monolight 22 Kit with Senso Power Pack
- Broncolor 2.5′ Octabox
- Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
Photographers who are new to lighting will sometimes panic when faced with photographing someone in glasses. Sometimes even seasoned photographers will make more adjustments than necessary to avoid a dreaded reflection. Here are a couple of lighting laws that are easy to remember and will increase your confidence when taking portraits of people wearing eyeglasses.
Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
Light is fairly predictable. A quick review of angles will allow you to capture glare-free specs. In any shoot, there are 3 positions that can be adjusted:
- The position/angle of your light.
- The position/angle of your model.
- Your shooting position.
Often, you only need to move 1 of these to improve eyeglasses portraits. First, let’s get a brief science review out of the way:
Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
Your source of light produces a beam that travels in a straight line. The angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. There are other factors to consider, such as the shape of the surface that is being hit and the size of your light source, but for your purpose you can depend on this rule to get you out of the line of fire when trying to shoot a bespectacled subject.
In the case of eyeglasses, make sure that the angle of the light hitting your subject is different from the angle you are shooting them at. When the light comes bouncing off those eyeglasses, you want it to miss you entirely.
Broad Lighting and Short Lighting
Short lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is further from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is closer to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting.
Why? When you place your light on the far side of a face, glasses are more bluntly facing the light, as illustrated on the left in the diagram above. When the light hits the glass, it bounces off at the same angle that it was hit at and right into your lens. When you place your light on the near side of a face, you hit the glasses at an angle that is more oblique by virtue of them facing slightly away from the light. The angle the light hits them at is now not as likely to bounce back into your camera.
In Figure 1, Katherine’s left side is closest to the camera – even if only slightly. The light is on her right side – the side slightly farther from the camera. This produces short lighting, which often causes reflections in glasses. You can see the green glare just in the corner of her glasses. I can either move the light to her left side or I can ask her to switch sides in her chair.
I decide to have her switch sides in her chair. She is more mobile than my light. In Figure 2, the light is still on her right side but now her right side is also closest to the camera. This is broad lighting and it solves my glare problem.
As you can see in Figures 3 and 4, allowing the light to hit the outer edge of the glasses produces no glare versus when they are hit more bluntly. The slightest change in your model’s position can make a big difference.
Shooting Eyeglasses Straight On
In the example above, I kept my camera and my light stationary and asked my model to move. A good rule to follow for any kind of lighting problem is to only ever change one variable at a time.
It is possible to shoot people in glasses straight on without reflections if you remember your angles. In Figure 5, I am lighting Katherine from a slight angle and even with the eye – the catchlight is almost in the middle of her eye. Shooting this low will always produce glare. Remember, your angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection and here the angle going in is almost parallel with the camera.
There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. One is to tilt the glasses downward on the face of the model or have her tilt her head downward. Sometimes this looks unnatural but it is a good solution for people using the built-in flash on their cameras because there is no other way to move that light.
However, here I choose to move my light. I simply move the light upward and point it downward a little more. In the diagram below, you can see how this allows the light a better chance at reflecting toward the ground and away from the lens.
In Example 6, I have moved the light ever so slightly up. You can still catch a sliver of reflection in her glasses, which can be solved by moving the light up further still. However, there is an upper limit to this method – you don’t want to give your model raccoon eyes or deep eyeglass frame shadows.
Dodging Angles: Shooting from a Different Position
If you like where your light is and you like where your model is and you are getting glare off of something then your last refuge is to change yourself.
In Example 7, I have a situation that can result in a large hot spot against my window. If you observe the angle at which your light is hitting a window, you can predict where it is going to bounce out at, too. Don’t shoot from that angle!
As you can see in Example 8, and in the resulting portraits below, my position as a photographer made a very big difference in lighting and the presence of glare on the window without me changing the position of the light one bit!
This is also good knowledge to have on tap when photographing aquariums, cars, and other reflective surfaces.
The Power of a Face: Directing Your Subject
Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time with our subjects. Michael, in Figure 9, is a very important man who doesn’t have time for me to move my light around. The reflections in his glasses are gasp-worthy. Don’t panic! As you can see, the slightest head tilt solves the problem and allows the light to bounce a little more off of his forehead rather than off of his eyeglasses.
- The angle that light hits a subject is going to bounce off at the same angle.
- Lighting on the far side of the face (short lighting) is often more problematic for glasses wearers than lighting on the near side of the face (broad lighting).
- Make small changes in isolation: change your position, your model’s position/head angle, or your light’s position/angle.
Photographing people in glasses is intimidating. You are forced to consider more than just “what looks good” on your subject in that situation. You have to consider what looks good and what is practical for a crystal clear image unmarred by reflections of umbrellas or green glare. However, if you remember even just one of these tips, it can save your nerves and your shoot.
Thanks so much to our friends over at BorrowLenses for helping us sharpen our skills both in and out of the studio! Check out the other posts they’ve written for our blog, like How to Safely Buy a Used Lens and their review of mirrorless cameras. Stay tuned and watch this space for the next part in this series and be sure to practice, take better pictures and have fun.
As we roll into another joyous (and tasty) holiday season, we’re ecstatic about sharing our latest how-to by one of our very favorite food bloggers and writers, Brooke MacLay! Brooke is the master chef and mom extraordinaire behind Cheeky Kitchen, and she’s also a word wizard for us here at SmugMug. She whipped up a delicious behind-the-scenes look at how she juggles her deadlines, shopping, baking, styling and her hungry kids to produce some of the most scrumptious-looking photos in a timely manner.
Bloopers most certainly included.
Read the full writeup over on our education site, and start taking your food photos to the next level this holiday season!
Good news for all you holiday travelers and gift buyers! Mirrorless cameras are gaining in popularity and may be the perfect option for just about anyone who wants a powerful camera in a smaller package. Our friends over at Borrowlenses put their expertise at work to help you pick out which model may be right for you… or your lucky giftee.
Reblogged by permission from Borrowlenses.com.
Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE our big cameras, especially those pro bodies with huge, high-quality glass. Lugging it around, however, is not so ideal – especially while on vacation or during situations where there just isn’t a lot of room to shoot.
High-quality sensors are coming in smaller and smaller form factors, which is good news for globe-trekking photographers or for those who simply need to pack lightly. These small cameras are perfect for:
- Hiking to get that great sunrise/sunset shot from a high vantage.
- Inconspicuously taking candids out on the street.
- Using auto or fully-manual settings on a simplified system.
Here are 5 recommended small cameras with incredible image quality:
These full frame cameras sport 24 MP sensors and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lenses. They shoot full HD 1080p video and have incredible low-light performance. The “R” version lacks an optical low-pass filter, which is ideal for catching extra detail in landscape shooting. The only bummer about these? You’re stuck with that lens. However, on the full frame sensor the 35mm is a great walking-around focal length and the all-metal Zeiss construction is top notch. Another great small-form-factor offering from Sony is their NEX series of mirrorless cameras (with some sample images here)
This retro-looking, handsomely-built micro four thirds camera does full HD 1080p video and shoots stills up to 9 FPS on its 16MP sensor. It is very slim and yet still accepts interchangeable lenses, like the fast 17mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO. Many of our street photographers extol the virtues of this camera.
Another retro beauty, the X100s comes equipped with film simulations, a fast 23mm fixed lens, and a 16MP sensor. It also shoots full HD video and supports a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. Don’t like the idea of a fixed lens? Try out the Fuji X-Pro 1 instead. It shoots RAW, sports cool analog dials and pairs with the following lenses: Fuji XF 18mm f/2.0 R, Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4, Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, and the XF 27mm f/2.8. More info on the Fuji X100s here.
Canon’s first mirrorless system allows you to use this diminutive body with any Canon lens with the help of an EF to EF-M adapter. It’s equipped with Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 Image Processor and an 18 MP sensor. Don’t want to mess with an adapter? Rent the M-compatible EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens, which includes the new Stepping Motor technology that can auto-focus quietly and provide continuous tracking of a moving subject. The rental of the Canon EOS-M automatically comes with a 22mm EF-M f/2 STM lens.
While only supporting a 10MP sensor, the Nikon V1 is one of the quickest shooters in the small-camera world with 10 FPS bursts in autofocus mode. It’s CX mount offers a variety of tiny (TINY!) lenses, such as the Nikon 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1 Nikkor 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6. It can also shoot interesting and effective slow motion footage (up to 1200 FPS) at 320×120.
The Leica M9 is kind of a different beast being the only rangefinder in this bunch. It has a “range-finding” focusing mechanism that shows two images of the same subject, one of which moves when a calibrated wheel is turned and the two images coincide and fuse into one. It is a wholly different way of focusing on your subject and takes some getting used to. It is full frame, 18MP, and has that satisfyingly retro-sounding (and discreet) metal blade-style shutter. Pairs with a decently large range of lenses. Check out Rolling Stone contributor, Drew Gurian’s, sample images from our Lecia M9.
All of these cameras have the option of shooting in fully manual mode, so you do not have to give up creative control to carry a lighter load. Simply toss one of these in your day bag knowing that you can travel comfortably toward your next unique shot.
No sales? Hard time hooking clients? Your deep-discount pricing could be choking your reputation.
It’s not uncommon to offer your services at cut-rate discount with the hope that you’ll snap up eager bargain-hunters. But is this really the right approach?
Successful Pros agree that raising your pricing may not necessarily scare away potential clients – in fact, it’ll do a body good. Here’s why.
That sounds backwards…
“Cheap” sets bad expectations for your clients. If you’re a cheap photographer, clients wonder how you’re cutting costs so much, and if it’s worth it for them to take the risk. They question your ability to manage expectations and communicate with them. Will you effectively guide them through an important experience, or will you simply fire a few snaps, hand over a CD and call it a day?
“Cheap” makes you look as though you don’t think you’re any good. Any business owner who doesn’t think their brand’s the best is probably in the wrong business.
How to Not Be Expensive
Right about now you’re probably worried about scaring away clients by being too expensive. How do your clients really know what “expensive” really is? It’s all about pricing and a concept called anchoring – meaning that they have to compare the value of something new with something familiar.
In English: Clients will be able to better grasp the value of your work by judging their interaction with you.
Here are some tips to help you prove that your work is worth every penny:
- Create a unified brand. A clean website. Clearly placed information. A custom domain and email address goes a long way, too.
- Be professional. Be prompt, cordial, and friendly. You provide a quality service, which is worth paying for.
- Look and act the part. No one is going to pay $5k to a schlup wearing ketchup-stained t-shirts, particularly if they show up late and forget to bring the paperwork!
How to do the “Free” Thing (the right way)
Just because you should be paid fairly for your work doesn’t mean you can’t cut clients a break, or even do the “free” thing once in a while. Samples are a great way to give clients a nibble of what you do do without giving away the whole farm. Some quick ideas of how to work this into your model:
Model 1 - Waive your session fee, but be sure to charge for prints and digital downloads.
Model 2 - Apply the sitting fee towards the purchase of digital downloads, making the first (X number) free.
On SmugMug, it’s so easy to offer a few deep discounts by creating a custom Coupon to hand out. There are five different types, making sure that you can keep changing it up and keeping it interesting. How to use Coupons.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Calculate Your Costs to Avoid Going Broke
The reason most photography businesses don’t survive is because their owners didn’t properly calculate their costs. And as the old adage goes, time is money. Don’t forget that your time and expertise are more precious than replaceable objects like paper and gear; you can hire assistants but they aren’t you. (Yes, it’s our mission to make you feel like a million bucks!)
Here are our suggested guidelines for calculating your costs:
- For prints: Your pricing should be not less than 4x your hard costs, including packaging and shipping. Seem like a lot? It’s not – about half of your balance goes towards taxes, 1/5th of goes towards the base cost of the item and the rest goes towards (ta-daa!) your profit.
- Albums and multi-photo goods: Your pricing should be no less than 3x your hard costs, which may include design work as well as the physical cost of the product.
- For Downloads: Price your larger-than-web-sized digital downloads at no less than the cost of ten prints. Giving away images at any printable size means you have to make it worth your while: They will use that file to print lots of prints, and you also run the risk of having your brand diluted if your client opens Photoshop and makes their own digital adjustments. Check out our resolution chart to find out how big they can print.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your work. By understanding your costs and charging more, you’re sending a stronger message to your clients and ensuring that they value you, too.
If you’re already in business and think your prices needs a kick, remember that it’s simple to adjust your pricing using Pricelists. Look here to see how they work, and don’t forget to ping our Support Heroes if you get stuck.
Wanna keep talking about pricing? Never forget that our photo forum, Digital Grin, has a whole section dedicated to the art of turning your photos into money. Check out our Mind Your Own Business section here and post away. Or just voice your thoughts in a comment below.
Good luck and stay tuned! We’ll be sharing more tips and “best practices” for you, soon.
Links you’ll love: