How Did I Get That Shot?




Unlike magicians,  most photographers are open to sharing their techniques with people who ask. A great shot is a combination of technical skills, a good eye, some photography tricks, and wonderful models. On this page, I'll share some of the interesting techniques I've discovered or been taught by others. 


Many of these examples use "off camera flash" (OCF). Simply, this is where one or more speedlight units (flash - aka strobes) are remotely triggered via a wireless system. Most point and click cameras and any DSLR camera can allow you to have the flash positioned very close to the lens (vantage point of the photographer). When you have multiple light sources, the first is set to go off via a trigger and others can be activated to flash at the same moment as a slave unit (when they see the flash go off, they flash at the sametime).


The shadows caused by the direct light of a flash from the camera's position is often not the most flattering and can result in distracting light on the background. In contrast, the ability to position your lights in any position without regard for the placement of the camera, opens up many interesting lighting possibilities. 


By using the strobe light in an outdoor shoot can help fill in shadows caused by the sun and add shadows as desired by the photographer, in the same way we do this in the studio. For example, by positioning the light source to go against the chest of a man vs. straight direct on, will highlight the muscles. By placing a light source higher than the model and at an angle on their face can create nice shadows. Placing a light source behind the model can also create some dramatic shadows and light.


Additionally, I rarely use the flash direct, rather, I add light modifiers. This could be a umbrella or beauty dish. These items difuse the light some and result in a less harsh light.


If you would like to practice photography in the studio with a male model or on location, I offer a variety of workshops where you will have time to pracrtice lighting and posing techniques with other photographers.

Fill Flash Angle

The model has deep set eyes and a fill flash outdoors was needed to fill in the details of his pupils. In the left image, the flash was positioned to high to reach the model's eyes. In the right image, the off camera flash was positioned in the bathtub and pointed up toward the model's face. The result is a much better view of his eyes.  High speed sync fill flash was used.

85mm prime lens, shot @ F 3.5, 1/332 sec, ISO 100. Post processing includes facial retouching and vignette of sides.

Tilt Shift Lens: Fix Unnatural Perspective

When you shoot with your camera pointed up toward a larger object like a building or a large window, the camera will capture the vertical lines in a manner that is not straight or perpendicular to the horizonal lines. In the left image, the window appears to be falling back on the model and this is known as a keystone effect (most commonly seen when photographing a tall building and it appears to narrow at the top). The solution is to point the camera more in line with the subject vs. pointed upward. By using a special tilt-shift lens, you can point the camera in line with the subject and then shift up to include more of the top of the image. It is possible to do some of this correction in Photoshop, however, there are some limitation and in general, capturing on camera is preferred. The lens can also change depth of field with a shift option, which is a different lesson.

24mm prime TS lens, shot @ F 6.4, 1/25 sec, ISO 100, fill flash. Post processing includes facial retouching and filter to add yellowish tint.

Dual Off Camera Flash Units: Key and Color Gel Backlight

In this outdoor shot, I used two off camera flash units (Canon Speedlights). The left image shows the 2 flash units -- the one to the left of the model has an orange color gel over a grid. This fairly direct light source provides a hint of color on the model's neck. The main (key) light from the side/front with a softbox (light modifier) provides good muscle definition, while also giving the model some light in their eyes.  By using high speed sync, I was able to open the lens to F 3.2 while using a very fast shutter speed (which was needed since we were shooting in natural light). This provides a nice shallow depth of field (soft focus behind the model). The use of a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens adds to the shallow depth of field. While you can alter the colors in Photoshop, I find the way the light falls on the model is more natural when capturing in camera.

90mm, shot @ F 3.22, 1/2049 sec, ISO 200, fill flash and back light. 

Longer Shutter Speed to Blur Scene

In this outdoor shot, I wanted to have the model appear sharp while showing some movement in the water. If I was shooting only water (with no model), I would have set the shutter speed to a long exposure such as 2 seconds to capture real blur. In this case, the model would appear blurry too. I settled on a slight long shutter speed of 1/30 second and asked the model to hold very still. An off camera flash was used to add clarity to the model's face. In post processing, I added bursts of color to enhance the image and give the appearance of the sun creating the colors. The blured water gives the viewer the feeling of movement.

65mm, shot @  f 7, 1/99 sec, ISO 100, fill flash. Water appears more crisp and sharp with the higher shutter speed.

65mm, shot @  f 7, 1/30 sec, ISO 100, fill flash

HDR: High Dynamic Range

Using the HDR technique, you capture 3 or more images and then using software, you combine them into a single image. Therefore, it is important that you use a tripod. You can include a model in the scene if they are still.  The concept is that at each exposure (under, normal, and over), you're capturing different parts of the scene. The camera often has a bracket setting that automatically captures multiple exposures with the varying settings automatically. For example, if you were shooting an indoor room with a window to the outside, the areas in the sun outdoors would require a different exposure than the interior less lit areas. Once you load the multiple images into the software, you can then choose from a wide variety of options for how to present the final image. These include some very vibrant options.

24mm, shot @  f 6.4, 1/49 sec, ISO 100

24mm, shot @  f 6.4, 1/12 sec, ISO 100

24mm, shot @  f 3.5, 1/25 sec, ISO 100

24mm, shot at various exposures. 7 total images were combined including the 3 below.

Backlighting of Particles in Light

To add drama to a photo, you can use rain/water, fog, dry ice, dust, chaulk, or any other items that provide particles in the air. The primary trick to capturing the particles of light is to have your light source behind the particles pointed toward the camera. If you light them from the front (camera position), you will reflect most of them back and have a large white mass vs. seeing the interesting patterns made by the particles. When shooting into a bright window causing a path of light into the particles, you would want to shoot from a dark area within the scene.

This image shows the placement of two lights behind the model pointed

toward the camera.  There is no front/side light in this set-up shot.

24mm, shot @  f 9.9, 1/166 sec, ISO 800, no flash. A smoke bomb was used to create particles in the light. The only source of light is the sun thru the window.  The rays of light are created as the sun hits the panes in the window. The model is not positioned directly in the light source, rather, just out of the main light;. The placement of the camera is in the dark area.

50mm, shot @  f 4.5, 1/128 sec, ISO 200 - Rain is water from a garden hose pointed up and over the model's body, lit from behind. Fog was also added from below and a third light source (flash as key) was positioned to the right side to light the front of the model.

Underwater Photography

Shooting a model in a pool can give you a variety of interesting options including anti-gravity floating poses, air bubbles, and reflections on the surface at the top of the water. In this shot, I was under water with the model using a mask so I could see and a weight belt to allow me to sink in the pool. I added a black background to add a more dramatic feel vs. the natural back of the pool. An underwater point and shoot camera was used and an exposure compensation of -1 or -2 is often helpful if the background is black.

21mm, shot @  f 3.5, 1/250 sec, ISO 800

Directional Lighting Creating Shadows vs. Flat Lighting

Light crossing your model's body/face will add interesting drama and shadows to your images. In the first set below, on the top image (flat lighting)  you can see only some of the model's chest muscle definition. The light source included a direct light in front as well as from behind/left of the model. This has the effect of a fair amount of even light hitting the model's body, therefore, you don't end up with any large shadows (flat lighting).


In the other image below (directional lighting), a side light was used without a direct light source coming from the front. In this image, you end up with more shadows that help emphasize the model's muscular form. Often, less light sources hitting your model and positioned at an angle will create more dramatic results.


In the lower left image, the primary light source is located above the model's head. This creates some attractive shadows on his face/neck and body vs if we added a key light in front, we would loose some of the interesting shadows.


In the lower right image, the light is primarily from the model's faceside and very little light hits the model's backside. This results in some dramatic shadows on his back and part of his face. A reflector or light hitting indirectly on the model's backside can add more or less details of his back depending on your preference.


Overall, this lesson applies to "on camera" flash units (eg. the typical built in or hot shoe mounted on a DSLR) used in studio OR outdoors as a fill light. You will generally obtain more flat, less dramatic lighting using this position since the light is coming from the same place as the perspective of the lens/photographer. Off camera mounted flash units or studio lights can be positioned anywhere and when using multiple light sources (flash, studio, reflectors and ambient sources) you can adjust the relative lighting among your multiple sources to obtain a wide variety of shadows on your subject.

80mm, shot @  f 9.1, 1/166 sec, ISO 100

75mm, shot @  f 9.1, 1/166 sec, ISO 100

80mm, shot @  f 12.8, 1/166 sec, ISO 100

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