Category Archives: Thought Process

Sheriff Bing Bing Bing, Ricochet Rabbit! {For Photographers}

Ok, I’m well aware of the fact that I just dated myself by using that title for this post. For those of you too young to remember that cartoon, simply “Ricochet” will suffice instead! What I’m really talking about here is finding and using direct sun light which has been bounced off a window, or other reflective surface to your advantage. Usually when you encounter this scenario, it will produce a very narrow band of bright light. You can either use that bright spot to light your subjects directly, or you can use it to backlight them. Either way, I think it can produce great results which should really serve to highlight your subjects nicely. The great thing about using this band of light directly is that you can expose for that bright spot (usually their faces) so that everything around your subject gets a little darker.

In this example the sun was reflecting off of two windows. Those two windows were relatively close to this orange wall, so the “bands” of bright light were somewhat defined and it becomes fairly obvious the light is coming from the window reflection.

In this next shot the sun was also reflecting off of a window, or it might have even been several windows. The main difference between this shot and the one above though is that in this photograph the window(s) were much further away, and the reflection was coming from a different angle, so they aren’t clearly defined as “window reflections”. The street and background were dark colored to begin with so they sort of just “melt” away when you expose for that bright spot on her face. You can see how this just naturally brings all the attention onto my subjects.

Now here is an example of using that bright sunlit window reflection as a backlight. I still tried to expose for those bright highlights and let everything else darken up a bit. By the way, I usually find that if you post process these types of window reflection shots a little warmer (yellow) than normal, they look nicer, but that could just be me though!

Here is the last example of using the bright spot to light your subjects directly and exposing for those bright highlighted areas.

So, the next time you’re out and about and you see the sun ricocheting off a window, go find where it’s hitting and place your subjects carefully, expose for the brightness, and Bing Bing Bing, you come back with gold!

Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

Melissa Papaj - As always, you are so good. I am friends with Kaycee through both Facebook and and I am always so jealous that she gets to go and shoot with you. You rock!

IRIS CHEUNG - Thanks Todd, your post opened my eyes! I’ve never approached light this way. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

Justinelement - this is what they need to be teaching us at school. lol – great stuff todd

Kay English - Thanks so much Todd for posting this! :) I thought it was pure genius when you did it at Alex’s wedding. I never thought of using that light for rim lighting too. So you spot meter on the highlights? Please do a workshop! I will so be there :)

Justinelement - lol. i’d like to agree with kay, its these times i wish i lived in new york.

Kay English - Love your new blog layout!!

Todd - aaawww shucks, thanks Melissa!
No problem Iris, glad to help.
Thanks Justin, maybe I will open a photography school then! ;)
You’re welcome Kay. Yeah you could spot meter on the bright part or just get close and chimp your way to the right exposure too. ;) I have started taking on some one on one mentoring sessions with a couple of photographers. I’m not 100% sure I like the format of a workshop and the divided attention, but we’ll see. Glad you like the new layout too! :)

rachel d - Todd! Thanks for sharing these tips! Im going to go out and practice, pratice, practice!….as soon as the weather lets up again. =)
btw, have you done a post on the “harsh”, mid-day lighting? Thanks again! You are an inspiration! =)

Chris Rioux - Todd! Wow! SO INSPIRATIONAL!! Makes me want to be shooting a wedding RIGHT NOW! haha Thanks so much for sharing!

Todd Laffler - Hey Rachel, no problemo! I haven’t done a post about harsh mid-day lighting yet, but probably because I try to avoid it at all costs! I’ll have to dig through the archives and see if I have anything that fits that bill.
Howdy Chris! So glad you enjoyed that. I hope to see you sometime this year before the next Mystic!

Amy Bennett - Thank you Todd! On my way out to do an engagement shoot and I am going to definitely look for some light! Your work is so inspiring! I will be following you…;-)

norman yu - todd thanks so much for this post. it answers a lot of what I thought you might be doing. So inspiring that I just shot a wedding for 10 hours and I’m here on the couch stalking your page! lol

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What’s on TV? {For Photographers}

I happen to think that watching TV isn’t such a bad thing, as long as it’s done in moderation. So, why not try watching a little TV while you are shooting a wedding too!? I have used televisions in a few of my wedding photographs, and usually wind up liking the result. Now, more often than not, I am avoiding something as potentially distracting as a TV at all costs, but sometimes you just have to roll with what’s in front of you, and not ignore the 800 pound high definition gorilla in the room! The exciting part of doing this, I find, is that you really don’t know what you are going to get. The idea, for me at least, is to somehow connect what’s happening on the TV with whatever else that is “real” in the room. Achieving this sometimes just comes down to dumb luck, or if you prefer, serendipity. Let’s see some of that “serendipity” in action!

This one REALLY was dumb luck, but you have to be prepared for dumb luck to happen to you though! The bridesmaids were watching TV, and I had set the dress up next to it. Pretty straight forward. Then I just stood back, took a test shot or two to make sure that what was on the TV would show up in the final shot, and then just waited for something “interesting” to come on. Seriously, after about a minute or two, this ad for a Soap Opera came on. “CLICK”….done! So, here is an obvious and almost literal “connection” from what’s on the TV to our reality. Let’s look at a not so literal connection in the second image…

On this shot, I set the bride up so that she was in the path of the window light and so that she contrasted from the white blown out area of the window itself. I then framed up my shot, including the TV. I turned the TV on, but had to surf the channels a little to find a something I thought might work. What I liked about this particular frame was how the bride and chef are both wearing all white, and how they are both facing the same direction, and also placed in the frame in about the same position, the bride off center to the right of the frame (the overall frame of the entire photograph), and the chef off center to the right of his frame (the black frame of the TV itself). So, here the connection between TV and reality isn’t so literal, but more a play on mimicking one another.

Pretty much the same deal on this shot, set it up, test shots for exposure, then wait for something to come up. What I liked about this frame is how the close up of the cartoon girl on the TV appears to be looking wide eyed over at the dress hanging in the window. I also like that she seems to be around the age of a teenager, and perhaps fantasizing of her own wedding day/dress. Once again, here is our connection. Without which I don’t think any of these images would have worked.

So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Go ahead and try it, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

Ok, just one TV “fun fact” for you: “American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV.”
– The Kaiser Family Foundation

Thanks guys.

Shang - I was once doing a bridal shoot in a hotel and we all had so much fun watching a romantic comedy on the TV during the preparations. In retrospect I would have loved to capture that as well!

jeff tisman - uh, what are you smoking before the wedding??!! (just kidding t-!!!) Shots ROCK!!

paul - hey todd! tx again for sharing you’re insight and thought process on how you do things. even though i can’t go to your workshop later, it’s great to know that you’re gracious enough to share some of that info here on your blog! keep it up dude, we photographers (atleast I know I am!) are soaking up the info! ^^

Deanna Peralta - I love the shot you took of Robert and little Robert getting ready for our wedding and the TV was on with Spongebob playing!

knot - your website is my most favorite site keep up your great work. what a tutorial!! : )

John - great post-Just read them all. Really got me thinking about how I can see things differently. Thanks and keep em coming!

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Seize the Day! {For Photographers}

Here is a quick post about capitalizing on potential opportunities. I will also explain a little about exploring your subject in more depth, even from a static shooting position. I will be using some photographs I took yesterday morning after it had snowed all night to illustrate my thoughts. Now, these are certainly not the best photographs I have ever taken, but just think of this as an exercise for the mind and eyes. I believe a lot of what I am going to get into here is in fact transferable to wedding photography as well.

Here is the set up: The other night I was stacking some firewood, just as it had started to snow. I knew that we were expecting a fairly significant (for NJ at least) amount of snow. In the past I have thought about placing “interesting” objects in the grass before it started to snow so that I could photograph them afterward. For one reason or another I just never followed through with the idea. So, last night, since I was already outside, and it had only just begun to snow I decided to seize the day, or more appropriately, the night! I didn’t have too much at my disposal as I wasn’t truly prepared to do this. Time to improvise, (kind of like a wedding huh?) I saw a bunch of our outdoor chairs sitting upside down on our table, grammar school style. I knew that these chairs would become my “subject”. I am a big fan of line, shape and pattern in my photography, so I started thinking of how I could use all of these chairs in an interesting way. I had to previsualize the photograph before I made it. This is another device I use when photographing the bride and groom. In my head I am sorting out where the light will fall, how I can use that to my advantage, how am I going to compose it, what focal length and aperture to use, where is the best angle to shoot from etc. Keep in mind that this is usually just a starting point, and sometimes it doesn’t work, or you need to tweak things, or even rethink one of those components for whatever reason.

In regards to the following photographs, I knew that I wanted a clean and simple snow laden background for the shot I was previsualizing, and to show the chairs in a semi-random pattern. Because my backyard isn’t terribly large and has a fence all the way around it, some trees, and other various objects, I knew the only way for me to achieve a clean background in such a small space was to shoot down on top of my “subject”. So, now I knew that I would be shooting from a window inside the house on the second floor. In my head, I tried to visualize what it looked like from that specific window. From there I began placing the chairs in a semi-random pattern. I also knew that I didn’t want any of the chairs to overlap one another from my shooting angle, so had to space them accordingly.

If you know what someone is likely to do before they do it, you can better prepare yourself for it right? I knew we were expecting a lot of snow and wanted to construct an interesting photograph utilizing that snow. I put everything together to achieve that goal and then executed. The same can be said of a wedding day. While it is true that every wedding is different and unique in its own way, there are a few things throughout a wedding that you can anticipate happening before they actually do happen. So prepare yourself for those moments, think ahead of time about where the light will be, what’s the best focal length and aperture to express your vision for that shot, where is the best angle to photograph it from etc. So, let’s see what I came up with…

Here is the shot pretty much as I had envisioned it the night before. I accomplished my goals; a clean and uncluttered “backdrop”, the chairs set up in a semi-random pattern which shows off their lines, and no chairs are overlapping each other. It’s pretty straight forward and I was relatively happy with the result considering I didn’t actually put too much thought into this.

So, now it’s time to subtly “explore” the “subject”, all from the same exact shooting position. The above shot was my starting point, and was how I had envisioned the shot to begin with, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best “solution”. I then zoomed in a bit to only show 3 complete chairs, and let the others be slightly cropped out.

I then zoomed out, changed to a portrait orientation and included all the chairs in the frame again, just as in the first shot, but this time I included some negative space below them. Also notice that I have gone from a square crop, to a landscape, and now to a portrait orientation.

I liked the look of all that negative space, so I decided to include just one chair in the frame this time.

As I was photographing, I noticed some birds flying to our bird feeder, so I tried to do a few shots with the birds in the frame. Obviously I couldn’t tell the birds where to go in the composition, so I just kept shooting and hoped something interesting would come out. I thought the following shot was the most interesting of the bird photographs. I liked how these two birds were positioned in the frame. I really enjoy this kind of shooting because you don’t really know what you will get, so it’s more exciting.

I kept the idea of including some negative space, but this time just changed back to a landscape orientation. When doing this, I picked up a little bit of our tree swing in the frame, which I kind of liked.

Then I decided to venture away from my “subject” and decided to only include the tree swing with a lot of negative space around it. Part of the framing decision of this was only due to other distracting elements that started creeping into the photograph.

So, you can see, I have not changed my shooting position in any way, and was able to come up with a few different looks of the same subject (except for the lone swing, but you can see how I got there). So, don’t just shoot what you think is the final photograph and pack it up, explore it a bit more and you will more than likely find something you like even better!

Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

Claudio - Sometimes I want to get a composition like the last picture but something I don’t want appears in the frame. So I just keep in mind the final composition and take the picture anyway. After in postprocess delete carefully the disturbing object with clone stamp tool :)

Naqib/Qippy - Pls ignore the first message,I accidentally cut/paste an article meant for a directory..the lesson you thought was really good in this post its made me take shots from all sorts of angles and possibility..thanks

Dani - Excelent exercise, i will practice it. Thanks Todd

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Think Fast! {For Photographers}

Ok, so this one isn’t about anything specific really, other than encouraging you to think fast on your feet, or perhaps even “MacGyvering” something on the spot if need be. The end result is about getting the job done, and doing it the best you can with what you have! I’m going to use a scenario from this past weekend’s wedding (which I am in the process of blogging) as an example of both my thought process and how thinking fast can sometimes mean the difference between just getting the shot and creating a WOW image.

Here’s the set up: towards the end of the night the guests at this particular wedding were led outside for a firework display. Now, I knew this ahead of time, but to be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t overly prepared for it. As most wedding days go, the pace is fast, sometimes frantic, so when they announced the firework display I grabbed my 35mm 1.4 and a flash on my 5D Mark II and hoped I could work something out. My initial plan was to try and shoot this using only ambient, either with the couple silhouetted in front of the fireworks, or perhaps the fireworks would be somewhat close enough to throw some light on them, or maybe I could ask the couple to stand near some outdoor lighting. I wasn’t sure exactly where this would go down, what would be near me, how close the fireworks would be etc., so wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off exactly. A little scary, and a little exciting at the same time! When the fireworks began I knew right away that all of those aforementioned ideas were not going to work. The fireworks were too far away to use any of its light to help me light the couple who were standing in total darkness. There also was no outdoor lighting I could utilize to shed some light on the couple. I had to think fast as I knew the fireworks were only going to happen for a few minutes at best.

So now I know that I am going to have to provide my own light to this shot via flash. Here is where I need to interject the fact that I was working this wedding alone, so had no 2nd shooter to help me and no assistant either. So having someone hold an off camera flash/play with the settings for me etc. wasn’t an option. I could have set up an off camera flash on a light stand and kept running back and forth to change the power output (I’m using pocket wizards, not radio poppers), and then also hope that no guests tripped over it in the dark. My options pretty much exhausted I had to do what I didn’t really want to do, which was fire my on camera flash at the couple directly. (See first photo) ICK!!!!! Yes, it looks horrible, but in the end it does get the job done, albeit in an ugly way. But wait a minute, there WAS a better way! As the fireworks were a little more than half way done I realized that the couple was standing about 8 feet or so away from the outside of the venue’s white tent. AHA! That’s when I thought, hey, I bounce off white walls inside, why not outside too!? I quickly pointed my on camera flash away from the couple and towards the white tent. From here it was just a matter of adjusting the power output from my flash to get the right exposure. Now I have a MUCH softer and directional light source. (see second photo)

This first photo (see image below) was taken towards the beginning of the fireworks display, when I knew that I had to supply my own light source. This is essentially a test shot, trying to get the right exposure for the fireworks and the right amount of flash to light the couple. This is on camera direct flash, before I realized that I should bounce my flash off the nearby white tent. At this point I am not caring about getting a good firework in the shot, or composing the couple in a nice way, this is strictly testing to get good settings. So, you have to still use your imagination a little to envision a nice pop of fireworks over their heads and them composed nicer in the frame, maybe from a lower camera angle etc. Regardless of all that, I still would have wound up with an ugly direct flash look, which to me is painful to look at, but hey, sometimes it’s any port in a storm ya know!? Let’s move on to the second photo, my grand finale as it were!

And here is the second photo, taken about 2 minutes after the first test shot. By this time, I have figured out I should be bouncing off the white tent, I have dialed a good background/firework exposure, found a good flash output setting, and composed the couple from a low camera angle and waited for the grand finale, complete with the bride’s “fist pump” of approval! Check and mark! Notice how soft and directional the lighting is now, all coming from on camera flash, just bounced indirectly.

For those interested in shot settings in the second photo, it was shot using a 35mm 1.4, ISO 1250, f/1.8 at 1/40 sec. and I don’t remember exactly what my flash settings were, but I’m guessing it was around 1/16th power, maybe less.

So there you go, think fast, and come back with the best possible shot you can make with what you have to work with! So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

Alice - Great demonstration; and good encouraging words. We have to remember to always keep pushing. Thanks!

Melissa - hey Todd, thanks for that! i really love that you are posting these photographer tidbits. very cool! the final shot is great and i love hearing your thought process. thanks again!!

KrisD Mauga - Awesome- you rocked it!!!! I know those moments when you feel like what am I gonna do? Somehow in the hectic moment it works out (hopefully). I’ll be filing this moment in “what if moments” for sure!

knot - still an awesome tips!! keep it up. i love your work

Jeremiah Klein - Thought I’d return the favor and look at your blog. Wow, you got the lighting skills done homie. I look forward to blog stalking you daily.

Onada - Thanks for sharing this! That second shot is amazing!

iSavor - Thanks for sharing. You stayed the course! another one for the ingenuity of photographers! I have one question. Where is this invisible tent? (ie. behind? left? I’m assuming right?) Hmm… Thanks again.

Naqib/Qippy - Wow! I found this post really useful,especially when caught up in such a scenario…excellent !

Lisa - Love the moment! Nicely captured. I’ve been enjoying your blog this evening. Wonderful shots! Thanks for sharing them.

Joanne - You are so inspiring.. Just amazing!

Ellen LeRoy - Teach us more, oh Great One! Seriously, I love hearing how the minds of talented photographers work, so thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your composition and how you use the foreground for framing your subjects so impeccably. On your website, when you are rim-lighting your couples with an off-camera flash (a technique you use frequently with couples faces looking at each other and close), do you have the flash on the ground pointed up, or is it generally an assistant holding the flash. Also, are you using a snoot with that flash to get it so directly on the faces?

Kristopher Gerner - This is awesome, I love it!

Kevin - Thanks for sharing this Todd!!!

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Come on Guys, Keep It Clean {for photographers}

This one is pretty simple, and that’s kind of the whole point here. While doing a recent engagement session I walked by this tree with a brick wall behind it. (See original photo below). The first thing that struck me were all those openings between the branches. Easy framing device right there. I also noticed a clean uncluttered brick wall behind the tree as well, and a ledge for my clients to stand on too. So, here’s a quick run down on how I brought all the focus onto my subjects in a scene that was actually both clean (only two elements, the tree branches and the brick wall) yet potentially chaotic. Although I only had two elements to deal with, if handled incorrectly, it could have become a hot mess! The 2 main factors in taming all those lines of the branches and brick wall were due to aperture selection, and tight cropping to eliminate those windows in the background on either side of them. Also notice the use of contrast in the final image, her face is just about the brightest thing in the whole photo. The eye will naturally go to the area of most contrast, and I used this to my advantage. Scroll down to see my complete thought process on this shot.

My thoughts:
1.) Dark spindly branches to use as a natural framing device. This helps create a “frame” around my subjects which helps bring focus to them.
2.) Notice how in this part of the scene it is naturally a little brighter. I use this to my full advantage in the final shot as this brighter part is where I have put Gabby’s face, again another way of bringing attention to your subject through contrast of dark and light.
3.) A critical element to the success of this photo is aperture selection. By using a shallow depth of field I was able to decrease the focus on both the tree branches and the brick wall. This softens up all those hard lines and is another way of bringing attention to my subjects. Imagine if both the branches and the brick wall were in perfect focus too? Yuck! Shot settings : ISO 800, Lens: 70-200mm (shot at 140mm) f/2.8 1/400 sec.
4.) This was another very important decision in making this photograph. I had some shots with a little bit of these windows showing and it was an eye sore. The main reason is because they are painted white and therefore created a lot of contrast. In this case, it was undesirable contrast. So I had to make sure I cropped in tighter to eliminate them from the photo.
5.) The ledge. Without the ledge I’m not sure they would have had enough height on their own to be seen in that branch opening.

And here is the final image:

So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

nadya - Thanks! I actually went out and bought my first Canon DSLR a week ago and i have been trying to learn all its features, its gonna take some time there is a lot to learn! This post is great i actually knew what you were talking about! :)

Galina - Thank you for this post. It’s always interesting to know the process of thought, that goes through any artist’s head, the “recipe” of the photographs, and the answers to the Why? How? and other questions.
Really interesting and helpful. Thank You!

KrisD Mauga - Thanks for the tip- lovely work!

jason - this is great! thanks for letting us in your head. so helpful to know what you are thinking when setting up a shot

Elaine - Todd,

I love that you are posting these photog blogs for all of us blog stalkers. Thanks so much for taking your time to share!
Looking forward to more.


Brian - Haha, that wasn’t the shot I thought you were going to end up with! Shows you how much I have to learn. Is there a reason you didn’t shoot perpendicular to the wall? Would the framing have disappeared?

sara - I love these tutorials! they are super helpful and you have a great eye.

Onada - Love these posts! Keep them coming!

Walter van Dusen - Now we are teaching…. Mystic 6 (2011) perhaps ;-) ))

Todd - Woops, sorry guys, I abandon you all! :(

Hey Nadya, congratulations, enjoy the journey!
Galina, you’re welcome. :)
Kris no problemo.
Jason, thanks, but sometimes I don’t even know what I’m thinking, sometimes it’s not only until I sit down later with it I realize why I did or didn’t do certain things. It’s interesting.
Elaine, you’re quite welcome, glad you enjoy them.
Brian, good question, but not sue I remember exactly why. You’re probably right to some degree though, and this was the opening I wanted to use, so it required not shooting perpendicular, that and perhaps those windows would have been more difficult to crop out too, not sure.
Sara, thank you so much!
Onada, I’ll try to keep them coming! :)
Walter, hmmm perhaps Mystic 6, who knows! ;)

Tom Hall - Hey Todd,

It’s Tom Hall, you shot our wedding back in Oct of 08. Very nice shot by the way, great contrast and sharpness. I love the way you’ve expanded your site to allow us neophytes into the mind of Laffler. lol

What’s your trick for getting such sharp handheld shots? I just got the 24-105mm for my 5D mark II and it seems to be decent but not super sharp on a consistent basis. I’m pretty steady with the hands so I’m not sure if it’s a gimmick I need to learn or a lens issue.

Your shots are great, as if you haven’t heard this a million times before. Great saturation, tone, and composition. You’re the man.

Galen Herrington - Thanks for the post!! Enjoyed learning about how you picked the brightest part to place your subject. Something I need to stay more aware of for sure.

Jessica Burdge - thank you for the post! very helpful:) if you didn’t have the 70-200 what would be your second lens of choice for this photo?

Todd Laffler - Hi Jessica. Ummm I guess the 85mm 1.2 might do the trick! :)

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Seeing beyond what’s in front of you {for photographers}

I’ve had a few photographers ask me lately if I did any workshops or seminars. I said no, but it did get me thinking about perhaps traveling down that road. So, I have decided to post a glimpse into my thought process while creating a particular photograph. If some of you silent photographer blog stalkers come out from the shadows and show some interest in this, even if it’s a “hey, that was helpful” or even a, “dude, don’t quit your day job” that’s great. If you guys like this sort of thing, I will try to continue with it, and perhaps it will help build the foundation of my future workshops, who knows! And if you have questions about anything regarding the blog post, go ahead and comment, I will try my best to answer them and create a dialogue here on the blog.

While I was out shooting a client’s engagement session the other day I came across a perfect example of how you can turn a less than desirable location into something MUCH better. It’s all about visualizing beyond what’s actually in front of you and figuring out how to accentuate your advantages and down play or even eliminate your disadvantages. I hope to illustrate that here.

So, here is the scene that we walked by. We actually walked by it in the beginning of our session, about 2 hours earlier when the sun was quite a bit higher. This was where the seed was planted in my head. I thought, I bet I could do something with this location later when the sun gets lower. So, I asked my clients if we would be walking back the same way on our return. (I’m not usually a big fan of this as you pretty much see the same stuff you did on the walk out, but I didn’t mind this time, mostly because of this particular location). Anyway, they said yes and I made a mental note to make this the last location of our shoot.

Keep in mind that when I originally walked by this location, the sun was not nearly this low. One of the first things you will notice about this location is that parking lot full of cars. This is a big pet peeve of mine, and I try to avoid ugly parked cars in photos at all times. So, this is certainly one of the negative aspects to overcome. Secondly, there is the nondescript cement walkway here, and then the patch of weeds. When we arrived here the second time in the late afternoon, I quickly noticed one of the biggest positives here, which is the lower sun, just over the ridge there. I love this, as it creates a nice warm light and that cool “halo” effect of rim lighting around the subjects. I also noticed that dark ridge in the background which I knew would act as a nice uncluttered backdrop behind my subjects heads, and would really accentuate that rim lighting. I know I said the patch of weeds was a negative, but it was also a positive too. This enabled me to crop out the cement walk way, after asking my clients to politely jump in the weeds, and I also used them to help me mask out the cars in the background by using a lower camera angle.

Here are 4 quick “bullet points” to my thought process:
1. Yummy warm low sun just above the ridge giving me that rim lighting.
2. Dark ridge in the background which will give a clean backdrop for my subjects heads to pop from, especially with the halo lighting.
3. Patch of weeds to help create some interest and allowing me to get rid of the distracting cars in the background by using a low camera angle. I also found this exact location where the weeds naturally split into a “V” shape, to help create a “frame” around my subjects as well.
4. This is all camera stuff/decisions; Shoot low from this spot to mask out cars, take off the lens hood to help with desired sun flaring, use a shallow depth of field on my 70-200mm to also isolate my subjects, take some test shots and chimping to find a good exposure and setting that in manual mode.

Here are the final photos:

This one (top photo) is a looser crop and I think it really shows the potential of a location when you start maximizing your advantages, while minimizing your disadvantages, and can hopefully help you to start seeing beyond just what’s in front of you.

This one (lower photo) is a tighter crop and more emphasizes the use of the dark background/lighting and “framing” using the weeds.

So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:


Claude Masselot - Hi Todd, this is an extraordinary lesson. Thank you so much for sharing ! I’m a big fan of your work, and you just did realise one of my biggest wishes : seing you at work ! Can’t wait to read more ! From France, a silent photographer blog stalker, Claude.

Brian - Awesome! This speaks directly to my biggest weakness as a photographer – having the ability to transform something absolutely mundane into a stellar picture. As someone who’s never tried shooting into the sun, seeing your camera settings would help too. Keep the tips coming!

Nadya - Yes you should do workshops!! I love your blog i check it daily :) . I have a question what would you recommend is a good digital slr for a beginner, not too expensive but reasonable? I have a limited knowledge of SLR when i use to use my film camera but times have changed so i need to learn again! I have been trying to find photography classes but apprently it’s not that easy to find @_@ …. Keep up the GREAT work!

Kat Forsyth - Wow, thanks so much for posting this! I never would have thought those weeds were big enough to block out the yucky cars and so on, but you angled it beautifully! Thanks for sharing.

Todd - Hi Claude. Thanks so much, glad you got something out of that!
Hey Brian. Great, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes (actually most times) we aren’t handed good photographs on a silver platter, so we have to see beyond! :) My settings were :ISO 250, f/3.2 1/640 sec. (loose crop was shot at 78mm, tighter crop at 200mm).
Hi Nadya. Thanks for the words or encouragement! I don’t think I am any help on camera recommendations I’m afraid. I’m actually not that big of a techie/gear head. In fact the only time I look at that stuff is if I am in the market for something. BUT here is a great place to do your research on cameras: Good luck!
Hey Kat. You’re quite welcome, glad you found it useful!

christine - You make me want to be a photographer too! If only I could capture moments the way you do… I’m not so sure the world would thank me the way they thank you though….

Love seeing the “before” and “after”shots. Who woulda thought???!

Rachel - Thanks for the lesson! Keep it up – I’m a big fan.

melissa - hey Todd…. i love hearing about other people’s thought processes. this is a great example! i would most likely join in on a seminar too. :) thanks for posting

Brandi - Awesome. This is such a great response to the need for locations.. I always tell people that it is a great exercise to find what looks like awesome/unique locations in unexpected places.

jill - I am also a silent blog stalker. I love your most recent post and would love to see more of them. Your blog is my inspiration to be a better photographer and you should definitely consider doing workshops! Can’t wait to see you in action in December. (I am a cousin-in-law to Patrick & Gemma)

knot - Thx todd, this is an extraordinary lesson. i really admire your work. keep it up!!!

beth - always adore your work and any insider tips are always helpful and encouraging. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I’m always curious about your settings, so anytime you can post those (for any picture) I’d love it! One thing that I cannot seem to nail is white balance while indoors while using flash or ambient light. It’s always just a little off. Can you offer any help there? Do you use custom WB? What kind of lighting at receptions, etc. do you use? I’m getting there, just not all the way yet! Thanks!!!

Quelyn - That’s awesome. Tips like that are things that I might not think of when I’m walking around taking pictures. So just putting that in my head is a good thing to know!! Keep up things like this, I would be interested in this or any workshops in the future :)

matt wilson - Excellent! Keep these coming. Great advise. Sometimes this happens for me sometimes not. But to think of it as “what can I do with this” versus “find the perfect spot” is definitely a good mindset to have. Thanks! I would definitely be down for a workshop. There’s a possibility that we might be living in NJ come May of next year.

Todd - Christine, every time you pick up a camera you ARE a photographer! :) Thanks
Thanks Rachel
Hey Melissa, your wedding is next in line in the editing queue! :) Thanks for the feedback as well!
Brandi, Thank you. Yes indeed, sometimes it’s better to see like one of your lenses and not like our eyes do! Kind of actually put some blinders on if that makes sense. ;)
Hi Jill. You’re a silent blog stalker too? Maybe this will turn into like a 12 step program, “Hi, my name is Jill…and I’m a silent blog stalker” :) Just take it one post at a time! I’m glad you find some inspiration here and found this post helpful.
Thanks knot, much appreciated.
Hey Beth. My guess is that the photos where you can’t seem to nail the white balance may be because of too many different light temperatures going on, i.e. flash mixing with incandescent perhaps even some daylight from windows too, not sure. It sounds like that may be your problem and when you have mixed light temperatures, white balance can be a real pain, and those photos can be very easily fixed by simply converting them to black & white. ;) Barring that you can always start playing around with adding the right gels over your flash to come up with a “common” light temperature in the scene. :) In a nutshell though, I will usually process any image so that the flesh tones look good, and let the chips fall where they may. Or you can always go into Photoshop and start fixing it there too. Receptions, I mainly foof with my on camera flash and will sometimes use a secondary flash triggered via pocket wizards.
Hey Quelyn, glad it made you think just a little differently about taking photos!
Thanks Sutejo.
Hey Matt. Yeah sometimes you just don’t have time or the location to find that perfect spot and you have to think on your feet to come away with some great images. Thanks for the positive feedback.

Todd - This is GREAT! It’s really cool having you guys comment, now I don’t feel like I am blogging inside a vacuum! And it sounds as though there is some interest in attending a workshop of some kind as well. I don’t know how long it would take me to put something together, but in the meantime I will try to do more posts like this one when I can.

Thanks everyone!

simon jefferson - Hi, love checking up on the wedding and e-sessions you have been doing. Great lesson here about making the most of the environment you have at your disposal and also about waiting for your moment. I too am a great fan and a bit of a stalker too. I take a lot of inspiration from your images. Keep up the lessons. Simon

corey civetta - Beautiful final images! Love your work!

Angie Mckaig - Todd, longtime fan/blog stalker – thank you for sharing your tips! Just one question: I’ve been trying to get the knack of shooting backlit like this and always admire your backlit shots. Do you usually use anything for fill flash, or is the great light on the subjects’ faces just from overexposing the shot in camera?

Elaine - Todd,
I am a huge blog stalker of yours! I love your different perspectives that you capture that turn a so so picture into a woooow picture.
I would love to see more info post like this from you. I will be here!
Thank you so much for sharing your amazing talent!!!


ChristopherDavid - Hey there Todd, I told you so! There are plenty of photogs that would enjoy a TODD workshop! Awesome tutorial and very generous of you to give to the photographic community in this way.

Nathan - Thanks for the behind the scenes, I am still shocked that your final images came from that location!

Todd - Hey Simon. Thanks for the positive feedback.
Thanks Corey!
You’re welcome Angie, glad you found this useful. No fill flash. In general I’m not a big fan of fill flash most of the time, but that’s another blog entry. :) So, to answer your question, yes it’s from “overexposing” the faces. Basically shooting for a good flesh tone “brightness” and letting the chips fall where they may so to speak. This is where that dark background comes in handy. Because it’s so dark to begin with, it can “take” being overexposed and still give a decent tone for the background, hence the “pop”. Just think if the background was very lightly colored, the second you “overexposed” it, it would blow out to pure white, not always a bad thing in my opinion, but, the “halo” of light around their heads wouldn’t stand out as much. Make sense?
Hi Elaine. Thanks so much, and you’re quite welcome!
Yep, you were right Christopher! ;)
Hi Nathan. You’re welcome. Truth be told, I was a little shocked when it all came together as well! :) I love it when a plan comes together! ;)

Bernie - You have so much to offer and share.. Do a workshop…… I’ll babysit… LOL, USA MUM

bartzi - Thank you so much!
I admire your work!!!

onada - This is awesome Todd!! Thanks for sharing! Definately gives a different perspective on things!

meg - another long time stalker here coming out of lurkdom to say what a great post! I have shared it with friends too…

Stephanie Arnold - Was linked here =) Loooove this & reading your thought process… will definitely be back for more!

Shannon Stuno - Great information! Love the outcome too!

Anonymous - awesome tips!! stalker reader as well, but know some of your clients (past and future). keep ‘em coming! the tips are super valuable and a workshop would be fantastic.

Ashley - Wow! Those final images are amazing and I can’t believe what the actual setting looked like. Great job! I really enjoy tips such as these, so PLEASE keep them coming!!! I’m always trying to learn more!

kaity - I loved this tutorial. I am an aspiring photographer trying to learn as much as I can. I stumbled across your blog and I love everything you do. Thanks so much for sharing!

Jason Davis - Todd, It’s been a while since I’ve dropped by and just discovered these “Inside the Head of Todd” posts, and love them. I’ve know since I first saw your work that you have an incredible gift and I think you would do great with seminar. I know I would love to see you at work and how you are able to make the images you make. Thanks for being such an inspiration. And congrats again on the little bundle of boy joy you, Susan and Zoie are expecting!

Anastasia Chase - Found your post through your mention on DWF – great great stuff. Thank you so much for sharing this technique. Time to turn on my creative thinking cap!


Jay Razonable - Thank you so much Todd, you truly are an inspiration!

Jessica Burdge - so beautiful! I would love a post on ideas for making couples relax and in turn capturing their personalities! Keep up the great work:)

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