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A Backlit Photo Shoot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco w/ Brittany Stinson

Hello everyone!! I’m back from a seriously long hiatus with new work to share with everyone!! Were you all patiently waiting?? Of course you weren’t, but I appreciate the fib to help make me feel better. So sweet…

Let’s get right down to it, cause I have a lot to write about and share. But where to start? Let’s start with the events leading up to the photo shoot and we’ll go from there. I have only recently grown interested in having my photographic subject be a model that was aware of the camera. For the longest, I focused all of my attention on landscapes, architecture and inanimate objects that sat perfectly still for me as I moved around and composed the shot that I wanted. Working with a model can be as simple as that, I have since learned, but it felt like a daunting task. So, I stayed away.

When I say that the model is aware of the camera, I mean non-candid shots where the subject is holding a pose for the intended purpose of the image being recorded. Do I work with models when I photograph the Giants at the ballpark? Absolutely!! A model is just a fancy name for a subject that is willing to let you photograph them. So, does Angel Pagan swing the bat in hopes of landing a triple cause he knows that I’m pointing my camera at him? I sure hope not!! He’s unaware that I am present, so I would categorize any sports shot that I take as a candid shot. I would say the same as with the shots that I took back a few months ago at my son’s end of the little league season party when the kids were all running around and didn’t know that I was photographing them while goofing around.

But point a camera at someone who is aware that their picture is going to be taken, and EVERYTHING CHANGES!! So, the thought of having to direct the subject to the vision that I have in my head was something that was holding me back. Well, no longer, my friends!!

I joined a few months back with the intention to change just that and befriend a few models that would allow me to photograph them with the hopes of working on my “people” skills and get more comfortable with the idea of directing a shoot. It is free to join, and with only minimal requirements to prove that you are one of a few set categories, it is fairly easy to join. As a photographer, you are asked to submit a minimum of 5 shots of different models or looks on the same model in order to be considered. As a model, you would also need to fork over a few images that show you as the model. The website has proven in a very short amount of time to be a great resource and forum for the collaborative effort between all parts of the photography industry. It gives you the ability to reach out to models, photographers, makeup artist, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, image retouchers and any other part of the industry you can think of on a global scale.

Starting out as a photographer has its particular challenges, especially if you don’t have a working portfolio, you if you dedicate yourself and have good intentions, you too can make it work in your favor. As you gain experience and post more work, more and more models in need of a portfolio will reach out or be more receptive to you reaching out for a collaborative effort. Once established, it is a great marketing tool for anyone in the trade looking for your particular skill. You can find all walks of life and all collaborative efforts from the trade of services to the established folks that have a going rate for their particular skill.

Somewhere in that mess, I messaged a lovely model who had a great look and was on the new side to the site, just like me. Brittany has been a pleasure to work with from the very first email, and I am very pleased that she decided to write back about the possibility of working together. You’ll be meeting her very shortly…

After going back and forth via email in regard to possible concepts, we settled on a backlit photo shoot and felt that it would be beneficial to both our portfolios to give a different look. The backlit photo concept is not anything new by a long shot. It usually goes hand in hand with trying to shoot for sun glare as a photographic effect, but not always. Anyway, I had been fascinated by a few wedding themed shots on Flickr that used this technique, so I had started to do all sorts of research on the internet to see how others achieved this very desired look in contemporary wedding photography.

Don’t get me wrong, I want NOTHING to do with the wedding photography industry. Waaaaay too much pressure as a photographer, and I’m here to have fun. If it’s not fun for me, I don’t care how much you want to pay me, I’m not doing it!!  But the look of that type of photography is something cool to have in your back pocket as an option when something different is just what the doctor calls for in your images. The funny part is that after many nights of searching on the internet, I found that there is no right or wrong way to get the job done!! And that, folks, is why I love photography!!!

Are there any rules or requirements that do need to be met? Yuuup, but it’s as simple as having the sun out, having a camera and a subject to photograph that gets in between the line of sight between the sun and your camera lens. I took notes while I surfed the internet, and I would love to be able to give everyone credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, I didn’t jot down any of the websites, so I will have to apologize if I can’t credit the author of the techniques that I used. Just please be aware that I did not come up with anything new, and any techniques mentioned were learned through extensive searches on the topics of “sun glares in photo” and “backlit photo” in Google searches.

One of my favorite parts of this backlit photo concept is that there is usually a soft dreamy look to the images that goes along with it that gives them an added comfort feel if taken correctly. The way I see it, it adds another dimension to the image that doesn’t always get transmitted to the viewer with a properly exposed shot. So how did I do it? Well, I first set the camera to Manual mode, cause without this, you aren’t going very far. Why is this? Well, every camera, regardless of its complexity or skill level required to operate it, has an internal light meter that is relaying information to the processing system in order to take a “proper exposure”. When you are pointing the camera into the sun, the sensor gets blasted by all that light coming through the camera lens and wants to make an adjustment. What results in Auto mode is a silhouette of a model with a complete lack of detail. Maybe this is what you’re going for, so don’t think that I’m knocking on you. But in order to capture any kind of detail in your model, you have to override the camera’s auto settings.

Once the camera was in Manual mode, I opted to set a few fixed parameters that would allow me to make easier decisions and adjustments. So, I decided that I would shoot the entire photo shoot with ISO 100 and at f/4.0. ISO 100 is probably the best setting for my Canon 1D Mark II N for image quality and lack of noise throughout the entire image. The aperture value of f/4.0 was decided upon since I was using my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0 lens, and that aperture setting is the lens at its widest setting along a flood of light in. If I was using a lens with a max aperture of f/2.8, I probably would have opted for that. The point is that you want as much light flooding into the camera as possible with this type of concept.

Having these set parameters, the only variable would be shutter speed, which is easy to work with on the fly. Now, had I not set fixed parameters I would have been second guessing myself with not only one setting, but a number of them at ALL TIMES!!! So, I’m glad that I did it that way. I decided to start with a shutter speed of 1/180th of a second and made adjustments as needed. The point of trying to properly expose for a shot like this is having to over-expose the image in order to keep the shutter open longer so that enough light bouncing off your subject can reach the sensor and be recorded.

Another technique that I read about and used to my advantage was trying to expose your subject while the light source (the sun in this instance) was being complete blocked by their head. I would hold down the exposure set feature and then recompose the shot with the sun just peeking out from behind her, and the exposure was just right. In the event that I released the exposure lock, the camera’s internal light meter would begin to go all over the place. Another trick that I read and employed was using the image histogram as a guide. If you set your histogram to flash the areas where there is an absence of color, you can see all the parts of the image that have been overexposed to the point of losing detail. If I kept the model’s face from blinking at my in the histogram, I knew that I had a good exposure.

The point is that this has to be practiced. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. I still suck at it. But I will keep practicing it until I feel comfortable with the consistent results. If you take any advice from me at all regarding this post, please listen carefully. Pointing the camera at such a bright light source such as the sun can be very dangerous for your vision. Even with a UV filter or ND filters, you are essentially looking right at the sun through a very tight and intense beam of light coming into your camera. Do not look directly into the sun and please stop if you start seeing sun spots all over. I found myself blocking out the sun with my model’s head most of the time to obtain the proper exposure, but would close my eye looking through the camera as I gradually moved around slightly and taking multiple shots while doing this. Did I take a bunch of images that were crap?? Hell yeah, but I still have my eyesight, baby!!!

Now that I’ve written nearly a novel just on how I got to hook up with Brittany and the techniques I used, it’s on to the fun stuff. We met up at Ocean Beach in San Francisco just off of Taraval St and The Great Highway at about 6pm a number of weekends ago. We had tried to get together the weekend before, but the beach backlit photo concept would only work if the sun was actually out!! For those of you that know just how socked in with fog San Francisco can get understand this comment completely. For those of you that don’t, we can usually get a very thick band of fog that just sits right on the coast line for days and days at a time that provides the coastline with wonderful air conditioning, but not so conducive for the type of photo shoot we were going after. Luckily, the following weekend was great, so it was ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!!!

The sun was bright, the wind was steady (which is great for all the shots with the long hair whipping around) and the fog was way off in the distance. The down part to the wind situation was that it usually is cold in the Bay Area this time of year, so there was that to contend with. But, Brittany muscled through, and coupled with a coffee break at the local java spot on the beach while we waited for the sun to set a little further, we made it through the shoot just fine without any frostbite and all our limbs intact.

So, here are my favorite images from that shoot. I still have a few points that I’d like to share about the shoot, but for the sake of not having this posting read on until tomorrow, I’ll just leave you with the goods. Tomorrow, I’ll share with everyone what I learnt in the experience of shooting with a model for the first time, my list of DO’s and DONT’s with working with a model and how to get the most out of your experience. Stay tuned, folks!!!


2 responses to “A Backlit Photo Shoot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco w/ Brittany Stinson

  1. Tiffany

    Hi! I understand this is sort of off-topic but I needed to ask.
    Does operating a well-established blog such as yours require a large amount of work?
    I’m completely new to running a blog but I do write in my diary everyday. I’d like to start a
    blog so I will be able to share my experience
    and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any suggestions
    or tips for new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

    • Hi Tiffany. Thanks for the note. I appreciate your asking for my input, but I hardly think I’m qualified to give you sound advice. I can tell you that I started my blog with the best intentions of writing in it every day. I can also confirm that trying to keep those intentions proved to be very difficult, especially when you feel as if you are having a one sided conversation. Now, I understand that having a photoblog creates a different series of problems with sharing new work with your audience, so it is perfectly possible to write short entries every day and maintain a working blog around a busy life. I wish you much success.

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