Photography Tips + Camera Equipment
Alright, a topic that I know a little bit of information about. Hunter and I both get questions about what equipment we use to shoot with so I have decided to give y'all some details on my gear as well as some tips and tricks. I'm always learning more about photography and trying to improve my skills so here are my two cents on the topic. At the end of the day composition and lighting are truly the most important elements of photography. Having expensive gear doesn't automatically equal "good" photographs but there are a few staple pieces of equipment that I think will improve the quality of your work.
Camera Body & Lenses
I have been a Nikon guy since day one. Theres the never ending debate over Nikon vs Canon when comparing DSLR cameras and I believe it comes down to user preference. I have shot with Canon and Nikon and love them both. I stick with Nikon because I am familiar with them and have made a large investment in lenses. I shoot with the Nikon D810 and I LOVE it. I finally purchased a full frame camera and it made a world of difference. I am able to take full size images without worrying about a crop sensor which allows me to have more information and better cropping capabilities in post processing. The larger images are also great for when you want to print them.
I truly believe that lenses make all the difference. I used to use less expensive lenses and they didn't produce as sharp of images and they just weren't cutting it. I finally purchased the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 and I love it. A lot of people go with the 35mm f1/.4 due to less distortion but I wanted something with a little wider field of view. This allows me to shoot in any condition and produce sharp images with a beautiful soft background.
I recently purchased the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and this lens is a game changer. I have zoom capability, access to a low aperture that allows me to shoot in low light and produce soft backgrounds and it is tack sharp. The only drawback is that it is heavy. It gets tiring after a long day of shooting but the beautiful images it produces is worth it. Below under the aperture section I go into a little more detail about these lenses.
Photography is something that you will continually get better at the more you do it. You will begin to notice how light enters a room, illuminates your subject matter and creates an overall mood for your image. Making sure your subject matter is well lit is the key to producing aesthetically pleasing image. By simply placing your subject a foot backwards or forwards in a scene may add or subtract light from them and that can make all the difference. I try and shoot with natural light as much as I can because it is typically softer and more readily available. There is nothing wrong with using proper artificial lighting but I think that the look you are going for will dictate if you need to add artificial light or not.
The other key element in taking better photographs is composition. This is how the whole scene comes together to be one cohesive element. Again, depending on if you want your subject to stand out in a scene or kind of blend in is all up to the creative direction of the shoot but there are a few ways to make sure your scene is composed properly. Weight in an image can do a lot. Say you have a model on the right third of an image and a nothing on the left, that image will be heavily weighted on one side. Try moving your subject more to the middle of the scene and having equal amounts of blank space on the sides. I like to put my subject matter on a third and then have another element from the scene out of focus in the background of foreground on the opposite side of scene. For example, say you are shooting a model outdoors, try and make sure that the background behind your model is unobstructed so that he/she stands alone in the image. Below you can see how the first image is a little distracting in the background when I had Hunter stand closer to the wall but when she takes a few steps to her left she stands out from the background. I also like to get a little lower than my subject when shooting to add a little bit of forced perspective making the subject seem a little taller and giving the image a more powerful feel.
You don't want to over expose too much because you will lose valuable information in your highlights. You are always better off to err on the side of caution and shoot correctly exposed or slightly underexposed and then raise your values in post processing. This will insure that you collect all the information you need and can adjust it later on. Sometimes I forget to take a test shot and end up taking extremely underexposed images and those end up being some of my best images once I expose them properly in Lightroom.
Corrected in lightroom
This is one of those things that is tricky. You want to shoot at as high of a shutter speed as possible so that you don't have any unnecessary blurring due to camera shake but you also don't want to underexpose your image too much and shooting in low light conditions usually requires you too shoot with a slower shutter speed. The general rule of thumb is that you never want to hand hold a camera and shoot below 1/60sec or 60. As long as you hold your camera as still as possible you should end up with an image that is not blurry due to camera shake. The further you zoom, the higher you want to go with your shutter speed, for example, if you are zooming to 180mm you will want to get as close to 1/180sec as possible because the further you zoom in the more affect camera shake will have on an image.
Aperture is what creates depth of field or that soft blurriness you get behind your subject matter that makes your images look more pleasing. Buying a lens with a lower F number is going to help you for multiple reasons. I carry two lenses with me at all times, a prime 24mm f/1.4 aperture lens and a 70-200mm f/2.8 aperture lens. These two lenses will allow me to shoot in almost any condition, light or dark, close or far subject matter. The lower the F number, the wider the aperture is which in turn allows more light to enter the camera and reach the sensor. So when I am shooting indoors, I typically have my aperture as low as possible which allows me to shoot at a proper shutter speed and still produce images that are in focus and properly lit. With the 24mm lens, the closer I get to my subject matter, the softer the background becomes but you have to be careful getting too close because that will cause some distortion with your subject. With the 70-200mm lens, I can get far away and zoom in to compose my images. The further you zoom the softer the background becomes as seen in the images below taken standing at the same distance from the subject.
200MM Zoom f/2.8
70MM Zoom f/2.8
Shooting raw is crucial if you want to make the most out of post processing. RAW images do not have a color space applied to them like a JPEG image does. When shooting JPEG's your camera is applying a color space, adjusting the black level, contrast, sharpness and other elements all while compressing the file and giving you less information to work with. RAW images are going to look flat, slightly dark and will not have the punch or contrast you look for in a final image but don't fret, you will handle all of that when you edit your images.
In regards to ISO, there is a lot of information to understand so I'll try and give you the short rundown so I don't bore you with technical details. ISO is directly related to the grain that you see in an image. The lower the number, the smaller the grain will be but when shooting low ISO you will have less low light capability. The higher the number the better off you will be with low light but you sacrifice those grain free images. Shooting outdoors you want to try and shoot with as low ISO as possible while still having a high enough shutter speed. Typically when I am outdoors, I shoot around 100 ISO with my shutter speed around 1/300 and aperture at f/2.8. It all depends on how much light is available to you but this is typically good for mid day, not in direct sunlight. Indoors I try and shoot with a maximum of 800 ISO with my shutter speed around 1/60 and my aperture at f/1.4 and this generally produces properly exposed images with minimal grain.
Shooting with a true white balance will help so much when you get to post processing. Your camera should have multiple white balance modes for every different type of light that you will encounter. Light is measured in temperature/kelvins. You can either shoot auto, which typically does a good job or match your white balance to the type of light you have available. Or you can meter with a grey card or do what I do and take a few test shots at different kelvins and decide which is proper for the color of light provided.
I edit my images exclusively in Adobe Lightroom. The workflow is simple, you have the most control for editing and you can either make your own presets or purchase them online to help you create images that are cohesive. Recently we have been using Jaci Marie's presets for Hunter's photographs and we love the creamy warmth that they provide. I also love Lightroom because with your Creative Cloud subscription you will get cloud storage that will allow you to utilize Lightroom Mobile. Adobe has created a Lightroom app that allows you to edit on the go. You sync the collections on your computer or laptop and they appear in the app with all of the adjustments you have made. Hunter and I use this so that I can edit images for her while I'm not at my computer or she is out of town without me. This also allows me to edit iPhone images while we are on the go. Editing is key to producing good looking images. Because RAW images come out of the camera looking dull you are going to want to edit everything you are going to post. Sure this process is a little tedious but to bring out all the information captured while shooting this is necessary. By simply adjusting the lights/darks and colors in an image you can create a different feel whether you are looking for light, warm and airy or dark, cool and moody.