Category Archives: 06. Tips for Photographers

Photographer FAQ: Posing Guide for Brides and Grooms

This is by far the number one thing that I struggled {still do} with when first starting out.  I was so consumed with making sure my camera settings where correct-ISO, shutter speed, aperture, the right light, the right background.  I totally forgot that my subjects needed as much attention and focus as my camera settings.  Unless your clients are uber comfortable in front of the camera you are quickly going to learn that posing (or coaching as I like to call it) will become your most important task as a wedding photographer.

If you are thinking: “I Shoot PJ (photojournalistic) Style…I don’t Pose”

Pfff!  If you are that confident that your clients will make magic happen in front of the camera and all you have to do is just press the shutter button feel free to skip this blog post.

Consider this: Confession From a Bride {Me}-I wanted all PJ Style and…I hated the experience

My husband and I were married three years ago.  Like many brides I was obsessed with finding a photographer who specifically shot PJ style.  My husband is not exactly a ham in front of the camera and I thought this would be perfect.  We could just act normal and our photographer would capture these magical, gushy, sweet, this day only happens once kind of moments.  Then reality set in.  This day does only happen once and for two people that are not totally comfortable with tons of attention focused solely on them it blocks them from being able to share those sweet magical moments freely.   Don’t get me wrong.  I did end up loving my wedding pictures, but the experience was not at all what I had hoped for.  It felt more awkward than mushy and more self conscious than fun.

Posing your clients doesn’t have to mean completely cheesy-department store portrait.  It’s about putting them in a position that is going to give you the look, style and emotion that you and they want from their images.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of my go-to shots:

Look at Me

To get a variety of shots out of one set-up use what I call the “Look at Me” combo.

  • Bride and groom look at me
  • Groom look at me and bride look at groom
  • Bride look at me and groom look at bride
  • Look at each other

Hold My Hand-50mm 1.4 Lens

This is best used when there is a nice clean background.  You want your eye to draw to your subjects, but also admire the beauty of the overall image.  I usually tell my couple to stand a couple of feet away from me, loosely hold hands and look at me.

I don’t love this background, but the columns on each side helped frame the shot.

The second part to this shot is to have the groom s-l-o-w-l-y pull the bride towards him.  This creates a fun little series of images that usually ends with a kiss!

Snuggle With Me-50mm 1.4 Lens

By far my most used shot and every couple LOVES this picture.  This is so easy to set-up, but there are a few key things to look for.  I have the groom face away from the bride, the bride snuggle in behind the groom and place her hand around is bicep.  You don’t want the bride’s hand to appear to be gripping his arm.  This makes the photo appear harsh.  You want the bride to snuggle, but not smush.  If the bride rests her head to0 hard on the groom then her cheek will looked smushed.  If she doesn’t relax enough (usually because she doesn’t want to get make-up on the groom) the picture will appear posed.  I always encourage the bride to “snuggle” right in there and after about two frames she is usually right where I want her.  Most of the time I have the bride set her flowers down or have the groom hold them.

Using the “Look at Me” guide also gives this shot a lot of variations.


Forehead to Forehead-70-200mm 2.8 Lens

This shot works anywhere as a tight framed shot.  I like to find an opening in a tree or other objects to frame this shot.  It gives the image a feeling the you are peeking in on an intimate moment between the couple.  The set-up is pretty simple.  Snuggle in together and touch forehead to forehead.  Some couples get a little giggly because they try to look each other in the eye when doing this and it makes them feel crossed eyed.  This is not the look we are going for!  Instead have them both look down or close their eyes.  Depending on their height this may or may not be a problem.  I like to shoot this with my long lens so that I can back up and give the couple a little space.  Sometimes I do use my 50mm though.

Framing is Everything-50mm 1.4 Lens

We all know the framing of a shot is everything, but there is something else to think about.  Framing the shot can also make it feel more intimate.  Like you have secretly captured this moment when the couple didn’t even know you were there.  You can do this by utilizing the foreground of your image and a shallow depth of field.  Notice in all of the images below some part of the foreground is blurred.  On the last one I purposely leaned against a concrete column and included it in my shot.


Look Over Your Shoulder-50mm 1.4 or 70-200 Lens

This is great when sometimes your grooms are not totally comfortable in front of the camera.  You simply point him away from the camera!  The key to this shot is you want the groom to appear relaxed still.  You don’t want him locked kneed and stiff shoulders.  Sometimes I have them put their hand in their pant pocket.  Have the bride snuggle in to the groom and look over his shoulder to you.  Same rules apply from the Snuggle With Me.  Don’t grip the groom’s arm, don’t smush the bride’s face, but also don’t be too stiff.

For a little variation I like to have the bride and groom both look away from the camera.  Positioning of the hands and flowers is often key.  If the hands are stiff the image appears posed.  If the hands are relaxed the image appears more intimate.

Sometimes I let the groom look too!  Notice how Sam is leaning in towards Derik.  You don’t want a large gap of space between them which sometimes happens when you ask them both to look at you.  Closing that gap will make the image feel warmer and cozier.

My advice would be to not try and memorize all of these set-ups at once.  Pick one that you really like and visualize yourself setting up the shot.  How will you coach your clients, how will you move around and get different angles, what additional direction will you give them once in the shot (Look At Me) and how will you coach them to relax into the shot.  It’s so important to visualize yourself doing this before you are working with your clients on location.  Know that the first few times you try it it might not work.  You will eventually adapt the shot to your style and clients.

Try to introduce one new “shot” about every 3 sessions.  This way you have time to perfect the previous set-up.  When you are ready to add a new shot to your list look for inspiration.  Look at bridal magazines, blogs, advertisements (Target, Abercrobie…they don’t have to be wedding related to love their set-up).  Break down the shot.  What is the background?  Busy, simple, clean?  How are the couple positioned? Standing here, looking there, leaning this way, touching each other how?  How is the shot framed?  Tight, wide angle, mid length?

After your session review the images of your new shot.  Do you like how you framed it?  How did you coach them?  Is the bride smashing her face rather than snuggling?  Was the background just right or distracting?  What will you do different next time?

Does this help?  Leave a comment and let me know what worked for you!

Have other photography related questions?  Leave a comment and I will do my best to answer!

Photographer FAQ: Lens choices, blogs and profit margins

I have lots of sessions to blog right now with wedding season and holiday portrait sessions in full swing.  Since I don’t have time to put together a full photography tips post, I thought I would answer some questions I have been receiving via e-mail.

Kim, who is from Spain, asked these questions (BTW-how cool is it that someone from Spain actually reads my blog!).

Question: “…I have the 18-55mm, 28-80mm and 70-200mm f/4 lens.  From what you say on your site, I was thinking maybe it’d be good to look into getting the 50mm f/1.4 lens as well.  With the lenses I already have, do you think that the 50mm would add anything to my shooting capabilities?”

Answer: Yes!!  For two reasons I think the 50mm lens would be a great addition to your bag.  When I first started out I was all about the zoom lenses and couldn’t understand why everyone raved about prime lenses (a prime lens is a lens that has a fixed focus length).  A fixed lens forces you to move and find different angles and to use your feet as the zoom.  Zoom lenses are great, but they allow you to be a little lazy.  The 50 mm is also a fantastic portrait lens and great for details too.  It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture with the 50 mm!  The second reason is the aperture.  The lower aperture (1.8, 1.4 or 1.2) will give you that creamy, yummy bokeh that is so beautiful in portraits. Here are a few pictures with my 50mm.

Question: What sort of profit margin would you say is necessary for a business to succeed?

Answer: Profit margin is unique to each photographer.  Photographer A could be doing this as a part-time gig just to make a little extra spending money, while Photographer B may be doing this as the sole supporter of their family.  The profit margin and number of weddings that each will need to shoot to meet their specific financial goals are going to be different.  Realistically, everyone wants to be making a profit, but it’s important to identify what your financial goals are (extra money, full time income etc) and then figure out how to make that happen.   Here is a link to a great resource on pricing that helps you figure out what to charge to meet your financial goals.

Bethany asked:

Question: I wanted to know what time of day you think is the best for an outdoor family photo shoot in AZ during the fall/winter months. I still don’t feel that I have mastered my lighting quite yet.

Answer: The best time for pictures is about an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise.  This is usually called the “golden hour”. When I am scheduling sessions I always check the sunset time for the exact day of the shoot.  This is extremely important to know when putting together a wedding time line.  If a bride wants a sunset ceremony and doesn’t want to do a first look then you will be shooting their portraits in the dark after the ceremony!  Click here for Arizona sunset/sunrise times.

Jewel, from OSP, asked:

Question: Just wanted to let you know I think your blogsite looks awesome!  I’m thinking about starting a blogsite with ProPhotoBlogs and I was wondering if you could share your experience and what theme you’re using. That would be a great help. Thank you!

Answer: Thank you!! I do love ProPhoto blogs.  Once you get familiar with the set-up it is so easy to use.  I’m not really using any particular theme.  I created the background myself in photoshop (the grey) and then just worked with the standard features to get the look I wanted.  Here is a quick list of things I did:

  • I created my header images in Photoshop based on the sizing ProPhoto recommended (once you get in there you will see what I mean)
  • I picked my background color (white) and trim color (light blue)
  • I used numbers in front of my blog categories (e.g. 01. Weddings). This allowed me to determine what order my categories would appear in the drop down menu.
  • I create all of my blog post pictures in Photoshop to add the light blue border and my logo.

I did my layout using the ProPhoto 2 theme and at the time it didn’t allow for a side column.  I have upgraded to ProPhoto 3 mainly to be able to use the gallery feature.  I might switch to a three column layout, but that will take some work and time…which I don’t have right now!

Use this PROMO CODE to get $10 off the price: SDEI2866.

Bonus Tip: Consistent blogging is important (especially if you have a blogsite), but it can be very time consuming.  Here’s a little bonus tip.  Set aside time to blog and prepare two blog posts at once.  Publish one immediately and the second one you can time to publish automatically a few days later.  Every blog post doesn’t have to be 20 images plus three paragraphs of information.  Make your second blog post something short and personal with maybe one or two images.  Personal posts help your readers and potential clients see that you are a real person behind the camera and makes them feel like they know you.  Personal posts are something that I have not done a lot of, but plan to do more in 2011.  The outcome will be your readers think you are blogging all of the time and you are working more efficiently.  This blog post was actually written two days before it was posted!


Tips for Photographers: DON’T SETTLE!!

I should be editing pictures from this weekend (one engagement session, one portrait session and one wedding), but instead I decided to post a photographer FAQ. I’ve received several e-mails lately in response to some of the tips/info I have provided here and here. I love sharing information and helping other photographers. By no means do I think that I have it all figured out, but I know how much I love when other photographers share an insight to how they do things. So, today’s tip is DON’T SETTLE.

I was talking with my second shooter this weekend about this idea. We were shooting detail shots of the brides dress at the Four Seasons, which is a beautiful venue here in Arizona. For some reason when building this gorgeous resort, they never considered hanging a hook or nail in a nice shady spot with a perfect mountain view in the background. This obviously would come in handy when looking for a spot to photograph the bride’s dress. Duhh!  Instead, I had to find my own “hook”.

As we scouted for locations I selected an indoor shot with nice dramatic lighting. Unfortunately, as you can see from the image below, it looks like the dress has sprouted horns and is hung in some hunting lodge. Not exactly the look I was going for.

I cropped my image several different ways, but this horn-hunting dress photo was not going to cut it and I was NOT GOING TO SETTLE. I decided to move outside and find a nice sturdy tree branch to hang the dress from. My second shooter was a little nervous as I hung this beautiful (and expensive) wedding dress on a tree branch. I was not because I knew it’s exactly what the bride would want.

I always ask each bride if I can “borrow” their dress for a little while to take pictures. Before I can even get the words out of my mouth they are usually saying YES!! That’s because they want that beautiful image that they have seen in my sample albums or portfolio. They don’t want horn-hunting dress photo just because that was my first shot.

Here is another example of NOT SETTLING. My first shot on the left (shot indoors) and the shot I will actually use on the right (shot outdoors).  Note that with both the dress and the earrings I shot them both indoors and outdoors.  Don’t be afraid to move around and try a few different locations and angles.

Part of NOT SETTLING is proper planning. You need to know your location/venue and that means getting your little booty out to the sight prior to the event day. This also means having a good time line that allows you more than 30 seconds to shoot details, getting ready and first look.

Hope you have found this helpful.  Please feel free to leave a comment with your tips/suggestions or questions you might have!

Back to editing I must go…happy Tuesday everyone!

tips for photographers-bridal shots

Bridal portraits are one of the most fun parts of the wedding day for me.  I LOVE my alone time with the bride.  My goal is to make her look and feel beautiful and to capture an image that she can always look back at and think…”Wow, I really did look amazing!”.

Of course, I look for opportunities to create unique images for each client, but there is one shot that is a “go to” shot that I take of each bride.  I think it’s stunning on brides no matter their dress, hair, make-up or size.  It’s a shot of the bride looking up into my camera.

Here’s how I set-up this shot:

  1. Shade + Grass: I like to look for a shady area on grass.  I don’t want direct, harsh sunlight that will cause dark circles under the eyes or squinting.  Nice green grass makes for a great background and is easy to “bump” in post processing.
  2. Squat + 45 Degree Turn: I have the bride squat down and then turn her shoulders 45 degrees to my camera.  This angle is much more flattering than having the subject’s shoulder square to the camera.
  3. Shallow Depth of Field: I shoot all of these shots with my 50mm 1.4 lens at either 1.4 or 1.8.  This creates that yummy, creamy background.
  4. Chin Up: Position yourself so that the bride is looking up at the camera with her chin slightly up.  This helps eliminate any double chins.  I will sometimes have the bride close her eyes to get a nice shot of her eyelashes.  It’s important that she doesn’t put her chin down, but just closes her eyes.
  5. Focus on the Eyes: I use the center focus point on my camera.  I focus lock on her eyes and then recompose the shot.
  6. Bump+Smooth: In post processing I bump up the saturation and luminosity of green ONLY to help really create the bright, creamy green background.  I make any other necessary adjustments and smooth the bride’s skin to make the image extra nice!

Here are a couple examples of my “go to” shot.

On the left here you can see the shallow depth of field that I am using.  Jillian’s eyes are tact sharp, but her necklace is out of focus.  That’s exactly what I want because this draws the attention to her eyes.  On the right side I stepped back a little ways to create a second shot of the same set-up.  I was still shooting at f 1.8, but because Jillian’s entire body was equal distance from they camera she is totally in focus from head to flowers.

The picture on the left was captured by my second shooter and shows the squat+45 degree rule.  My shot is on the right.  You can see that the bride, Kelly, has her chin down a bit.  She is rather slender and it worked for her without creating a double chin, but typically I would have her lift her chin up more.

We don’t have that nice green background here, but you can see the picture is still stunning and definitely worthy of going into their album.

You’ll notice in several of these shots I might crop off the top of the bride’s head.  That is fine, but don’t crop at the chin.  Makes for an odd picture.

Next week I’ll break down the post processing of one of these images.

**Photographers: Did you find this post helpful?  If so, feel free to leave a comment!  Do you have more questions?  Send me an e-mail and I will try to answer it here on the blog!

FAQ: File Organization

Happy Easter everyone!  We spent the day with family eating and playing games, followed by more eating (note to self-start diet AGAIN tomorrow).

I was going thru some of my e-mails this weekend and I was reading the latest newsletter from Jasmine Star (holla!).  This month Jasmine encourage all photographers to give back to the community in anyway we can.  Since I am a total photography FAQ blog stalker, I decided the best way I could give back was to return the favor and post a photography FAQ here.

When I first started my business, photo sessions were a little random and sometimes few and far between.  I kept client info in my e-mail inbox and their digital files were saved somewhat randomly on my external hard drive.  As business started building I was still working my full-time job and quickly realized that I needed a better system.  Here is what I came up with and still use today.

  1. Contract-I scan a copy of the signed contract and a copy of my current pricing from which the bride selected her package.  When I first started I was updating my pricing every couple of months.  If a bride booked 8 months in advance my pricing was drastically different from the time she booked to the time I actually photographed her wedding.
  2. Deposit and Final Payment: I used to require 50% of the package price at the time of the signed contract.  I got tired of constantly doing the math (yes, I used to be an engineer…as in past tense), so I decided to make it easy and now I require a flat $500 no matter the total package price.  Final payment is due 30 days prior to the wedding date.  I track all payments in an excel spreadsheet.  Believe it or now, it’s really easy to forget if you have been paid.  Especially if you are still working a full-time job, chasing after your kids and trying to keep the house clean:)  Payment…what payment?
  3. Outlook: As soon as I have a signed contract I enter the wedding date, location, time and all contact info for the bride and groom into my calendar.  I enter a reminder 30 days prior to the wedding to collect the final payment.  I also create a folder in my inbox for all e-mail correspondence with the couple.  So, my inbox looks like 09-Weddings->090401-S+C (I use the couples wedding date and initials.  Date is year-moth-day).
  4. File Structure: I keep all of my files on an external hard drive.  My directories are divided by year and weddings or portraits.  For example, 09-Weddings; 09-Portraits; 10-Weddings; 10-Portraits (same as e-mail folders).  Under these directories I use the event date and the bride and grooms first names: 090401-Shannon+Cory.  I name the folder by year-month-day to ensure that the folders are automatically sorted by oldest to newest.  Next, I create folders for each task in their contract: Engagement, Wedding, E-Album, W-Album.  Under each task I make two folders: RAW and JPGs.  I keep the PDF copy of the signed contract and pricing sheet in the core file directory (090401-Shannon+Cory) for quick reference.
  5. Back-Up: Backing up your files is a MUST!  Don’t mess around with the chance of a hard drive going bad, accidentally deleting files or corrupt files.  I’ve never had to call a client to tell them I have lost their files, but my stomach is in knots just thinking about it (it could also be the pie I ate earlier!).

Of course a post is not complete without a picture, so here is a picture from a wedding I photographed in February. The look on Kelly’s face as she walks down the aisle is so sweet!