Monday

Some tips for photographing children

An infant mimics the pose of her older sister as they pose by a pond.
Very often, children will imitate their older siblings, which I think is adorable. 

I have two incredibly adorable nieces (not the two charming kids shown above) who have been brought up in the Facebook age. We have a lot of fun playing, and they are genuinely healthy and happy kids, I’m sure, who will grow up to be amazing adults. But they have this amazing capacity to hit these perfect poses whenever a camera is raised in their direction. Some of it, I’m sure, comes from them seeing their favorite performers pose in music videos and in the various media, but it still kinda freaks me out whenever they do it. It’s like watching these goofy five- and seven-years olds turn in to adult models on cue.


In my experience, most kids don’t do that.


Maybe it’s because my nieces know me, and they know their folks (who shoot most of the photos they appear in and get posted almost daily on Facebook) but it seems pretty rare that the children of my clients are able to get comfortable so quickly in front of the camera when we start shooting. By the time we’re done shooting, though, most of the kids I work with don’t want the picture-taking process to stop. One parent even emailed me the day after a family portrait shoot and said, “[my son] woke up this morning and asked me when we can "go play with Thomas again?!?!" He's asked me at least 10 times. When sedans pull into our driveway, he yells "It's Thomas!"  Just to blow my own horn a bit, that same mom asked, when she saw the photos of her kids, “how do you make reality look so damn good?”
A young man strikes a pose on a small footbridge in this photo.
Young Luke, the first time I met him.
Looking like a sheriff from the old west, that same young man is seen two years later.
And then two years later. One tough cowboy.

So here are the few simple steps I follow when I work with children. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter if the little ones are two years old or 17.


Play with them. Kids have to feel comfortable with you, as if you are their friend. Grown-ups are giant, strange entities when you’re a kid, with different ways and viewpoints. But if you make an effort to enter their world, it means a lot to them and can really help to make them comfortable when you need them to smile or behave in a certain way while making portraits.
A young girl beams as she runs past the camera, her hair flying.
I spent a lot of time running around and playing with Penelope. 
When I was a little kid, I loved “Lost In Space,” and I set up my own little spaceship in the basement using the cushions of the window bench. My parents had a circle of friends they entertained from time to time, and there was one of dad’s colleagues, Bill, who took time away from the grown-ups’ party to come downstairs and have me explain the complex workings of my little star-bound explorer. This guy is a respected Nuclear Physicist, and he happily played the role of co-pilot on our missions exploring other galaxies.


I thought this was the coolest grown-up in the whole world. To this day he remains a very dear friend, though he swears he doesn’t remember playing at space travel with me when I was nine.


But he did teach me a valuable lesson about how adults can relate to kids. Now in almost every shoot I do with kids, I make a point to try to enter their world and make them the boss of it. If they can explain how they play a game or why they like the toy they are holding, it creates a kind of understanding that helps when it comes time to take pictures. I’m not just a big person telling them to behave a certain way: I’m a co-conspirator helping them to have fun, and maybe being pretty goofy while I’m doing it. (It helps to be something of a clown, and also to be willing to get your clothes dirty crawling around on your knees.)
Several children attempt a yoga balancing pose in this photo.
Not everybody is able to hold their balance, and this sort of thing inevitably induces laughter and smiles.

Get down to their level. When you’re three, or four, or nine years old just about every interaction you have with the adult world means you have to look up. Orders and rules and everyday conversations come down from the grown-ups towering above you. It’s true that love and affection comes down from your parents above you, but so can punishment and scoldings and orders to go to the principal’s office.
A young girl shows off her pet for the camera.
This is one of the few times that I think looking down to a subject has "worked."

So when I photograph kids, I try to get down to their eye level, and stay there as much as I can. With really young kids, this can mean that I am on my stomach while I’m taking pictures of them. Most little kids think this is hilarious and it helps them to open up a bit. I’m not just another grown-up standing like a sequioa above them. I’m a peer, a buddy, a playmate. Some times the only way or the only time you can get a photo of a child is when you’re standing, but it makes a huge difference when you can get on the same plane they are, or even have them looking down at you. I think it gives them a bit of confidence, too, and that helps them be more expressive.

A toddler beams up at his mother, out of the frame, as he walks in a sunlit meadow.
I was laying on my stomach for this little man, who didn't yet have a lot of experience with walking.

Don’t make them sit still. Stillness isn’t something that comes naturally to most kids anyway. They want to run! To jump! To play! I let them. Sure, it sometimes means I have to chase them around trying to take pictures of them, but it also means they are spending their energy having fun rather than being on guard for me. My theory with both adults and children is that when people are having fun doing what they like, that’s when they look their happiest and best.
This young lady plays hide and seek behind a tree on a pretty fall afternoon.
It may look like she's sitting still, but it's a during a game of hide-and-seek.

Let them be kids. This may seem obvious, but I find a lot of adults who seem to want their two-year-olds to act like they're forty. I never understand this, because the things that make your kids special to you are the mannerisms and behaviors they exhibit while exploring their world and learning to be adults. 
Two young children peer over the railing of a footbridge at the water below.
Checking out the wildlife at a local pond. Some of my favorite images are of kids exploring their environments.
grown-up siblings goof around during a portrait session.
Even older, um, children, have fun goofing around, and these kinds of photos often say more about
relationships and personalities than when they're just standing still and behaving. 
Before heading to prom, a large group of teenagers vamps for a photo.
Kids of every age love to show off and ham it up for the camera. 
Let them take breaks.  Most kids aren’t going to have the patience to behave for extended periods of time. Heck, I’m not even sure adults are built to do this, but at least they have more practice at faking it. It’s very common, if I’m photographing children, that I put the camera down every few minutes and let the kids run around and burn off steam. Let them get a snack, have a drink of water, play with the dog, whatever.


A mother holds her son high in her arms as he reaches out to touch a tree branch.
During a little break in shooting, mom and son explored their surroundings, and it made a sweet image.
Very often, too, by watching them do the stuff they want to do when we’re not shooting it gives me ideas about how to get them to do what I want them to do once I’m behind the camera again. Often you can just continue the activity they did during the break, but now it’s happening while you’re making photos.


Little breaks keeps us both sane, and usually helps kids focus a bit once we get back to taking pictures. There isn’t really a schedule for this: it’s just something you have to watch for an intuit. It’s also good to know when kids have had enough and you have to call it a day. Usually by then we’re both ready for a nap.


Father and daughter watch the action as she sits in his lap.
Another photo that happened during a break, but also a nice interaction
between dad and daughter on a pretty autumn afternoon.
Get the parents involved.  There aren’t many sentences that are more frustrating to me than to hear, “oh, I just want you to photograph little George.. I don’t want to be in the pictures.” There is no one in the world that your child trusts and to whom he or she will open up more than mommy or daddy. I always encourage parents to get in there and play with their children, if only for part of the time. I should say that I try not to make anyone pose too much: kids don’t like holding poses (except for my nieces) and if you have a whole family trying to pose you’re almost always going to end up with one person blinking or looking the wrong direction or something.
With her son on her shoulders, mom tries to navigate with her eyes covered.
To me, this photo says a lot about how much fun mom is, and how much
her kids must get from being around her. You don't need to see the eyes or
have them looking at the camera: body language says it all.

Parents hoist their baby in the air, much to the delight of the baby.
When you get the parents involved playing with their children, you can often see the love. 
As I said, my philosophy is that if people — even very little people — are enjoying themselves and having a good time, that’s when they look their best anyway. I can’t remember how often I’ve heard someone describing a favorite relative by saying, “he used to make this great face when he laughed!” Or, “that time when we were all around the campfire at the lake, I’ll never forget how happy she looked.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Uncle Kevin sure did know how to sit up straight and smile.” On that note..


Don’t let the parents get involved. As I said, I don’t generally work by having people pose in a formal way for me. If they’re already doing something great and I think it might be better if they were making eye contact with the camera I may say, “hey, look over here for a sec.” But it’s not uncommon that parents have certain expectations about what they want a portrait to look like, and usually that’s along the lines of what they looked like in their yearbook or what they saw on the wall at the photo studio in the mall. Sit up straight. Smile, but not too much. Tilt your head a little. A little more, please? Good. Aaaaaannnnd, “click.” Does that sound like your kid?


No? You’d be surprised how many parents I’ve had standing behind me barking at their 10-month old to smile and behave. This almost never generates the kind of response they want, and I’m sure some of those kids are going to end up in therapy later on. I tend to think that the kids hear the stress in their parents’ voices and probably start to get anxious themselves, which just feeds in to the whole disaster. What do I do when this happens? Why, time for a break!


Usually I try to make this look like I need to put in fresh batteries or check the light or something, and in a minute or so after dad’s blood pressure has gone down I’ll quietly suggest something like the following: “You know,” I say, “it may be that your son or daughter is kinda freaked out by having me here with all this camera gear that I’m shoving in their face and the lights and stuff. And it might take them a few moments to get used to me and the noise and commotion, so how about we just let me shoot some ‘throwaway’ pictures of them just playing, and then once it’s not so strange and new to them we can get the ‘real’ photos where they can pose and feel less aware of me?”


Then what I can do is use the time shooting to change the parents’ focus from a “we have to get a good formal portrait of Timmy” to “we should help Timmy have fun during this process so that we’ll end up with him posing for a good formal portrait later on.” And while we’re “just playing and having fun having the camera make noise” I can occasionally get the child’s attention and have them look at me for a nice portrait. Very often, those photos of the little one just playing end up being very dear to the parents, more so than the static posed pictures.
Charming child beams for the camera in a garden setting.
I don't have a photo example of parents behaving badly, but I do think this little
lady is adorable, and she struck this pose without any coaching at all. 

Along those lines, when it does come time to try to get the little one to look up and smile, there’s almost no one who can do that better than a parent. Often, parents want to stay out of my way, and so they will be ten feet off to the side saying “Joanie, look at the camera!” Of course, Joannie hears her mom’s voice and looks over to the side where mommy is standing. I often have to encourage parents to sit or stand right behind me (I’m usually on my knees, down at the child’s level) so that when they do look up toward mommy’s voice, they’re mostly also looking in my direction.


Let them see the pictures. Ahhhh, the glorious digital age. I was dragged in to it kicking and screaming. Now, though, I love it, and I’ve found that one of the best tools in my bag of tricks is to let people see what I’m shooting in as much of a “real-time” way as I can. Once in a great while I’ll shoot tethered so that the images show up on my laptop seconds after I press the shutter, but in the field that’s not terribly practical. So I carry a loupe with me to show parents and kids the pictures I’ve made every few minutes.
Two young girls have fun climbing a tree.
Like the jaguar, lounging in the treetops.

At first I hesitated about doing this. I don’t want to have people see the images that don’t work; the ones I’ve screwed up or those where they don’t look good. After all, I am an Artiste! But it turns out that it’s a terrific way for subjects to feel like they are getting some sort of concrete reward from the process. We take a few photos, and then they get to see them. And voila! They almost always want to take some more, and to do something to make them better. It turns reticent, hesitant, quiet kids in to little Johnny Depps who want to look good for the camera. Sometimes it makes them act up a little too much, but so what? Let them get it out of their system, and then make the good pictures. It costs almost nothing to make a few goofy photos, and the time spent is time building a better rapport with your subjects.
The photographer shows a picture on his camera to a gleeful young boy.
Kids love seeing photos you've just taken of them.

As to those pictures that aren’t the best ones, it’s easy to explain. I tell parents (and kids) that because I’m shooting a lot of photos, there are going to be plenty where someone blinks or has a funny expression, and they don’t want to see those and they won’t end up seeing them. This explanation works very well. So it’s not that I’m giving them editing control, which is what I thought would happen. Rather, I’m giving them feedback to make the process easier and smoother for me. And if there’s a photo that’s out of focus or dark because the flashes didn’t fire, I just tell them that they made that happen because they were bad.

Friday

Getting my feet wet with underwater photography

With summer in full swing now, you may be spending a lot of time around the pool, at the beach or just standing under the sprinkler to cool off. Most cameras don't take very kindly to water, though. If you want to get some fun shots while you're splashing around or snorkling, you need to buy one of the many "water-proof" or "water-resistant" cameras or get an underwater housing for your existing camera. That second choice is the one I made.. here's why.
The Canon WP-DC43 housing plays in the surf near Kona. 
Last year I went to the beach on the Gulf Coast with my family, and bought a waterproof point-and-shoot to play with. While it was fun to use, I found its limitations more frustrating. For one, that camera only produced jpegs, and even at the largest setting I could still see a lot of compression artifacts. So this year, for a trip to Hawaii, I bought a Canon waterproof housing for the S100 that I've been using for several months. Using the housing, a WP-DC43, let me shoot everything in raw and gave me the most control over my images. 
I should point out here that I'm not a diver, and I've only been snorkeling about four times in my life. So I wasn't expecting to come face-to-face with a giant squid or see any mermaids. And there are many aspects of underwater photography that are much different (and more difficult) than what can be shot on land, so this isn't going to be a tutorial about how to get great shots beneath the waves. 
Sea urchins among the crevices of a large coral.
With the exception of the turtles above, which obliged by floating around in about 1 foot of water, the conditions I faced were generally not great for shooting. Around the beaches where snorkeling is popular in Kona, on the west side of the big island, you get a fairly constant churning surf, which means that sand and debris are being kicked up in the shallower areas all the time. So the water is murky, and I've had to punch up the contrast in most of these photos quite a bit, as well as the clarity.
My brother, who has been scuba diving for years, did give me one tip about underwater photography.. if you're shooting straight ahead, things look a lot better. If you're pointing the camera down toward the seabed, you lose a lot of contrast and depth and tonality. That's pretty much the same as being on land, though: if the light is coming from right behind you, it flattens out all the shadows (which is why I don't like on-camera flash) but if it's coming from an angle it often looks much better.
But of course, during my travels in paradise I wanted to be able to use my nice little camera for other shooting as well, and I quickly realized that the smartest thing for me to do was to leave it in the housing all the time. That way, I could get it wet any time I wanted to (or couldn't avoid it, like near the surf or in the rain, or by a waterfall) and it reduced the chance that I'd somehow risk water damage to the camera by taking it in and out of a dripping housing. Each night I did take the S100 out and rinse the housing (as per the instructions on Canon's website) and I then backed up my images as well. 
My S100 fits right in to the housing, with every function available from outside buttons. 
My main worry in using the housing, aside from the constant fear that I would come to the surface with a drenched hunk of metal, was that my pictures weren't going to be very sharp. After all, you are placing another element in front of the lens. But the material (glass? plastic?) on the Canon housing seems to be very clear and I didn't notice any particular loss of sharpness. As much as I like being able to slip the S100 in to my pocket and keep it out of sight, it wasn't really a hassle to carry around the camera in the housing. One part of that which really helped is that you can attach the strap to the sides of the camera housing, as shown in the top photo, which makes it hang better on the body and also makes it easier to handle underwater. 
A tourist photographs a lava flow that overtook the road on the south side of the island. 
I think maybe the best thing about using the Canon waterproof housing, which I got from B&H Photo in New York, is that it let me try making some photos that I wouldn't have attempted otherwise. I found myself freely dipping the camera in to shallow pools, holding it down at the surf line, and carrying it around in places where I might have left an unprotected body in the car (or stayed back a few more feet to protect what I was carrying.) I got splashed a bit when making these photos, but they're kinda fun and different and enhanced the record of my trip.
This is a photo I wouldn't have attempted without having some splash protection for the camera. 
I could have spent as much money on a new waterproof camera, and probably even much more to get a good one, but using a housing allowed me to operate a camera that I was already familiar with and which gives me very good image quality without a big new learning curve.

Monday

Timing is everything

Just a quick post to demonstrate what a difference a couple days makes, which is true with almost every subject you'll ever shoot.

Here is a field of aspen trees in Hyde Park, above Santa Fe, New Mexico, about ten days ago..


And here is the same scene (I think I'm about 15 yards to the left, but you get the idea) just a few days later when I returned to the park. 


I had a photo professor, the very lovable Will Counts, who said, "when you see something you want to shoot, you have to stop and shoot it right then and there, because it's never gonna be there again." He was very right about that, and on the few occasions where I've told myself I could come back and get the shot when it was more convenient I pretty much always got burned.

You can see a few more aspen photos from the area where I grew up here on my Facebook page. Go on, like me if you like them!

Wednesday

Clearspire Law Firm business portrait guidelines


For the past couple years I have been doing some corporate photography for a Washington D.C. law firm called Clearspire, which has been a very interesting group of people to get to know and to work with. Starting from the ground up, we worked together to establish a unified look for the photography their website and materials that might promote this unique firm. From the start I’ve known that the firm would be hiring new members around the country and overseas, so this posting is done in order to provide some guidance about how other photographers, shooting in locations where new Clearspire attorneys are hired, might try to replicate some of the work that has been done so far so that there is a consistent look to the site as the company expands.

Photos on the Clearspire web site, showing the rollover effect

For all the Founders and also the lawyers and staff who have been brought in to Clearspire, we had two very specific types of portraits that had to be created:
A biography and larger image appear when the thumbnail is clicked.
First, there was a desire to create a nice environmental portrait of each individual that could be used as a thumbnail on the website, and when clicked on, would appear adjacent to some biographical information. Rather than trying to make these static portraits, there was a desire to make the people appear accessible and somewhat interactive, almost as though you might be seated across from them in conversation or at least in the room observing or participating in the action.

I approached these photographic challenges in a couple of different ways. I say, “challenges,” because in most cases there wasn’t much real interaction taking place, and the offices where we made these photos are somewhat spartan in their trappings. The idea behind the firm is that most of the lawyers can work from home, so the offices are mostly used for conferences and training and aren’t elaborately furnished or decorated.
In the photo above, another Clearspire staff member has stepped in to serve as the person being talked to by the main subject of the photo.
The training and orientation sessions did offer some opportunities to put the individuals in a context where they are around other people, and that was helpful. Thus I’ve been able to shoot over shoulders to suggest the presence of other people in the room and also to use objects in the foreground of the images to suggest a bit of meeting activity. In some cases, we have asked other Clearspire staff to stand in so that there is the appearance of a meeting or conversation happening.
In general, I am using one large umbrella (48”) with a speedlight about 45˚ off to the side from the subject, generally set so that it is only about ½ stop brighter than the ambient. But in the conference room photo above, I'm just bouncing a couple speedlights off the wall in relatively small room. In a few cases I’ve used a small speedlight in the back to light architectural elements or to backlight the subject so that there is a small amount of separation from the background, as with the woman above standing in the reception area of the office suite.
Diagram showing lighting setup for the photo above
In these photos we don’t want the background to fall off to black, so meter the ambient carefully and use that for your baseline exposure.

Diagram showing the lighting for the portrait of the woman in the doorway
With quite a few members of the staff, though, we have had to establish a more traditional portrait situation. Here also we have tried to not make the photographs too “stiff,” and this has been achieved by having the subjects adapt a comfortable and relaxed stance. The lighting for these has been about the same as for the “interactive” series: a medium-size umbrella (or less often, a softbox) filling in most of the front of the person from about a 45˚ angle. It has not mattered which side the light is placed on. The goal is to create a bit of sculpting with the light but not to make it look overlit. 

For portraits shot when the subject is seated, it’s often useful to have the person leaning in toward the camera just a bit, as though they might be stressing a point while chatting. And it’s often very useful to ask the subject to hold something. Clearspire is a very tech-savvy firm, and lawyers do much of their work from iPads and Mac laptops, which can make for decent props. In order to have iPad screens not simply appear black, it’s a good idea to ask people to turn up the brightness all the way and also to have some app running that is fairly bright (the “field” of apps as they float on the screen is pretty dark overall: books and publications are often good to have on screen, as they often have white or light backgrounds.) You can see here that the screen is not on at all, but so little of it is showing that it's not as distracting as it might otherwise be.
All of these environmental portraits have ended up running as verticals. On the website the viewer is first shown a color thumbnail cut from the larger image, so you need to keep the images uncluttered, and then when you click on the thumbnail or information link a larger version is shown in black & white. Shoot and deliver everything in color.  Some photos I've composed as horizontals, but with the awareness that they will probably be cropped, as the photo below was. As all these are being turned over to a design firm, it is good to give a little bit of variety while trying to stay within the guidelines I've talked about here. 
These portraits are often shot with a medium telephoto, for instance in the 135mm-200mm range, in order to throw the backgrounds out of focus a bit and to “stack up” any elements in the foreground to give a greater sense of depth to the images. Shooting with a longer lens (as compared to a wide-angle or “normal” lens) will also clean up the background and keep the focus on the people. For all of these images I have done a custom white balance — and also created custom DNG profiles, which is helpful but not critical — and then warmed up the skin tones just a bit from the neutral white temperature reading.

The other requirement has been to produce a series of three clean, simple variations on the standard mugshot for use in the company’s internal communication platform, which is accessible to some degree by clients, and some of the images are also used for the lawyers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. There are three settings that need to be created on a white background (I used a Savage bright white seamless): 
  1. A “straight-on” headshot. Generally I’ve had the subjects rotate their shoulders a tiny bit to the right to add a little bit of depth. 
  2. An “I’m on the phone” photo, where the subject holds an iphone up to their ear like they are talking. Again, the person is rotated a tiny bit to their right, so their right shoulder is back, and it’s a good idea to have them hold the phone in their right hand so that it doesn’t block off the body. Also, we’ve found that it’s better if the person holds the phone just a centimeter or so away from their face, because when it’s pressed right in to the cheek it both obscures the phone and can distort the cheeks a little. 
  3. An “I’m busy now, don’t interrupt me” photo, where the subject holds one hand out in the traditional “stop” gesture like a traffic cop would. It’s important to make sure that the hand is perpendicular to the floor, so that it doesn’t end up looking like a fascist salute in the 1930’s. 
For these photos, which Clearspire calls "Presence Indicators" on their site, I've used two 24" softboxes at subject-eye-level on each side and then a larger umbrella just to the side of the camera and above me. The softboxes are providing an exposure about 2/3rds of a stop brighter than the umbrella, to give some depth to the subjects' faces and to throw extra light on the white seamless. 
These three photos all run quite small on the company’s website (I’d be surprised if they were even 100 pixels), so they have to be clean and instantly readable. Again, shoot with a long lens. This is particularly helpful with the “hand up” photo, because it will be separated from the face more than if you use a wide-angle lens. Also, as you can see from the set-up photo, there were a number of other obstacles that we had to shoot around, working in a busy office.
Because Clearspire's clients may see a number of the lawyers on one webpage when they log in to the system, it is important to keep these images consistent. Though they run small, I've been shooting them a little bit loose so there is room to play with keeping eye levels consistent, for instance. And it's quite important to keep the white background pretty bright, because if it's even 1/2-stop dim it will start to look grey in comparison with the others pretty quickly.
I created my own naming conventions for these images, using the company name and the shoot date and then a sequence number. It is also important to have good information in your IPTC description or caption fields, such as "Joe Smith in the Dallas Office, photographed July 2012."I've been delivering these photos via the FTP facility I have through my website, but your methods may vary. Clearspire has been eager to get the new lawyers and staff on their site as soon as possible, so I've been trying to turn images around in a couple days for them. For the most consistency of color, I've been delivering JPEGS in sRGB color space for use on the web.

Many thanks to LightingDiagrams.com for creating the files that I used to show the lighting setups.

Tuesday

Fun summer engagement photos

In the past few weeks I've been pleased to spend time with several very fun couples making engagement portraits in the DC area. For me this is one of the best parts of the wedding photography process, because I get to be with couples without all the time-pressure (and emotional pressure, too) of the wedding day, and we often get in to situations that would never occur when everyone is all dressed up.
This is Krupa and her fiancé, Ronak. I first met Krupa around 17 years ago when my wife and I moved in next door to her family. Best neighbors we've ever had. Sadly they've moved away now, but only by a few miles. When I learned Krupa was engaged I could scarcely believe it, because I still think of her as a kid in junior high. As a present to celebrate her engagement, we got together at Ronak's house one very hot afternoon.
These photos were actually made at the end of our time together shooting. Krupa had seen the idea of using water balloons in a magazine somewhere and had filled about five or six of them as a possible photo prop. But we realized pretty quickly that those were going to be used up in just a few seconds, and for any decent water fight we needed gallons, not ounces. The hose came out, and that's when the real fun started. Plus it helped them cool off on one of those not-so-rare 90-plus degrees days.
It was actually in December of last year when Matt's mother contacted me, wanting to give an engagement portrait session to her son and his bride-to-be, Lauren. Because he's finishing up post-graduate work, it was some months before we could all get together out at a nice winery in the Virginia countryside. 

 
When we met up at Bluemont Vineyards west of Leesburg, conditions didn't look entirely promising. Rain was in the forecast, and I spent quite a bit of time preparing special neoprene covers for my gear so I could keep cameras and lenses dry while letting Lauren and Matt slog through the downpour. Fortunately, though, the rain held off just long enough for us to make some fun pictures, and the soft overcast light created a nice mood. The tasty bottle of Viognier didn't hurt, either.

Back in the Leesburg area for another shoot with Mary and Brian, we met fairly early in the day in order to beat the summer heat. It was a good thing, too, because it was in the 90's when we finally wrapped up and it kept on getting hotter. But we had some pleasant breezes and a very pretty morning as we trekked around Merriweather Manor, where they held their wedding celebration.
The image below was the photo they selected for the big print to show off at the wedding. Mary loved the giant tree looming over them as they strolled along. She had picked up some flowers in the meadow during our morning together, and they made a nice accent to the scene.
You may notice that all the photos above were made with longer lenses. Lately I've been shying away from my wide angle lenses for portraits and opting for the compression and separation you can get when shooting closer to the telephoto end. Most commonly I'm using my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 for portraits, though sometimes I bring along my 300mm f/4 if I really want to have extra weight on my shoulders. The 300 really is wonderfully crisp, though: the only downside being that I have a little less flexibility in composition as my subjects move around, so that's why the 70-200 is the lens I rely on the most for these situations. 
But there are times when it works using a wider lens, particularly when you have a big sweeping vista like the one above to show off. I really loved the texture of the tall grasses, and they seemed to go on forever. The owner of the manor, Andrew, told me that people sometimes ask why he doesn't mow it down, and he tells them that he thinks it just looks too nice to put it to the blade. 

And I did play with shooting very wide when Krupa and Ronak started their engagement photo session. Both of them, they told me, are just big kids at heart, and one of the things they enjoy doing is playing on the swings in the playground near his house. So I got up on just about the top step of his fancy ladder from Costco and leaned out as far as I dared while they swung up on either side of me. They had fun, but it turned out that I didn't see the sort of motion effect I was looking for, and it also happened that whenever they were close enough to me and their arcs were somewhat synched up that they ended up being on the outside edges of the frame. What I probably needed to do was to get up much higher and shoot longer, maybe renting a cherry picker. (Note to self: get a cherry picker.) In the end, the water fight pictures were so much more fun that we chose one of those for the big picture.

One final photographic note: just about all these images were made just with natural light. I did throw in a bit of fill light with a diffused small speedlight when I was shooting Mary & Brian by the red window of the barn, and used a shoot-through umbrella to fill in Lauren & Matt by the barrel on the porch at the winery, because they were under a large awning.