Let me just say straight up that speedlights are a wonderful thing. But not if you're shooting animals. When shooting a family portrait, it's always good to have the option of adding fill light, ideally from an off camera source, but most pets are intolerant of the bright, intermittent light. That means your time window for shooting portraits is somewhat narrower than if would be were you just shooting people. It also means that you have to be prepared to do a lot of work in post processing to bring out the correct exposures and skin tones.
Take this shot, photographed at Sunabebaba Beach in Okinawa. In order to be able to recover the detail in the clouds, I had to be sure not to over-expose it. However, unless I was prepared to shoot silhouettes, it was also necessary to bring out the exposure hot enough that I selectively could bring up the shadows without introducing too much noise. The trick here is to expose for the sky and shoot about one stop too hot. Since the clouds are not the main point of interest, it's okay if they're a bit blown out. The Canon 5D Mk2 I was shooting on is quite good at capturing detail in the highlights which can be brought out in Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is also quite good at selective dodging, provided you don't try to push it too hard. The shadows were brought up about 50% with a slider, then I used a brush tool to bring up the faces. This has to be used sparingly, or about 1/5 to 1/4 of a stop. More than that and it starts to look too obvious.
In addition to bring up the shadows and pulling down the clouds, I also did some selective coloring. It was really quite a bleak day and the subtle gradations in color temperature present in the clouds just didn't come through on the sensor. I didn't use specialized software for this, partly because it's expensive and partly because the art of photography, to me, is about teasing out the beauty from within a photograph, not adding it with software. I'm not above doing that if that;s what the client wants, but I think April and her family were pretty happy with this.
Of course, not all shots are so challenging. The next one was taken directly into the sun on a hazy day. I set my exposure for the bright backlight that was present when I posed the models and started snapping. Young Aiden gave me a terrific smile, but Jet just wouldn't look at the camera. At least, not until the sun went behind a cloud. With my exposure still set for the bright light, I kept snapping, knowing the shot would be underexposed. That's okay, because it meant I wouldn't be fighting to get the detail back in the background. All I had to do was bring up the shadows and use a brush tool to accentuate the highlights from the sun behind the subject. The result is quite pleasing, if I say so myself.
This shot needed more color than the sun would give me through the clouds, so I applied a brush to the the ocean and brought the color temperature down a bit. The goal was to bring back the beautiful aqua color without going overboard. I generally like to bring out the colors using the vibrance slider, but the orange shirt started looking rather intense too soon. The way I handled that was to bring down the orange saturation slider in the HSL section. This took some of the warmth out of the photo overall, but I can live with that. The look is closer to that of a shot taken much earlier in the day, say mid afternoon as opposed to what would have been golden hour had the haze not been so thick.
These are two of 15 photos that I liked. During the shoot, I snapped more than 400. Some would say I went a bit overboard on that, but I'd rather be sitting in front of my computer fretting about how much material I have to sort through than wishing I'd shot more.
I'm so blessed to live in Okinawa, where such portraits are possible. And a big thank you to April, Kaden and Jet the golden retriever for being such awesomely photogenic subjects!
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My simple blog about the art and science of photography.