Friday, October 4, 2019

How I Shoot Photos

Larry's Photography Page (LT)
Commentary on shooting photos of children, teens, and young adults. Tip for aspiring young models and actors: build a resume. Also, the best way to learn digital photography is by doing it, experimenting, and making mistakes. (Please excuse the repetition.) Note: Some minor changes were made on 2-1-22. (I will continue to make minor changes and clarifications. Additions 2-12-22, 3-3-2022).

Blast from the past! 
MariaB, 11 going on 12, Test Photos, 6-28-2006, San Marcos, Texas.
The photo was taken at the Mariposa on Hunter Road.
Maria received two degrees (double major) from the University of Texas, both majors in 4 years: Communication Studies and Computer Science.
Currently, she lives in France.

Gabby turned 17 in January 2022. 
The photo was taken in my living room studio.  


Shoot photos that make the model stand out and look good. 

I try to take photos that get attention, reminiscent of my children's black/white photography 40 years ago for SAG agents, TV Commercial managers, and talent/modeling agents, such as headshots, composites, and modeling portfolios. 

Today, it's color images posted on a website, sent by e-mail, or downloaded to a thumb drive. Promoting the child's best features is essential because the photos are professional advertisementsEyes must be expressive. I concluded that my images were only as good as the model many decades ago. I make suggestions, but I am not a portrait-family-wedding photographer trying to get everyone to smile, etc. The model's responsibility is to perform well in front of the camera with smiles and expressions and be herself. Perk up. Never look blah or disinterested in photo shoots. Also, while I shoot a wide range of photos for modeling agents, I do not control which images an agent or manager selects for a composite. Agents will try new children, so it is important to present an upbeat, professional attitude, even at age 4 or 5.


Sharp Photos

When shooting outside, I shoot at 1/1000 second or faster with a sharp 85mm lens to keep images sharp for portraits and fashion. I set my camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed within the interval [1/1000, 1/8000], which allows the camera's computer to select the shutter speed to float in that interval. The camera also adjusts ISO. But, I set the aperture at f/2.8, or f/2.0, or even larger to isolate the model and blur the background. I also move close, filling the frame. Sometimes, if the image seems too dark, I adjust the exposure, perhaps +.3 EV. Also, I often use a Canon flash unit attached to the camera set to high speed as a fill to light the eyes. 


Sometimes, not smiling is the best expression, even for kids.
Assets: Eyes, Hair, Easy to Work With
Gabby: October 5, 2019
1/1250, f/2.8, ISO = 400
AWB in the shade

Hint: Crop! 
Looking, Forever Cute & Charming
Em at 10

My System  

Shoot photos that make the model stand out and look good.

  • Watch background.
  • Seek shade.
  • Blur background.
  • Come Close (Fill the frame).
  • Focus on the eyes.
  • Light the eyes.
[Post Production: Crop & Process for Snap]

I shoot JPEG, not RAW; verticals, not horizontals. I break the rules. I often crop images, such as the two above or the one below. They were originally full-length.  

Test Photo Shoot
September 25, 2021: Studio Shot. The braces are off, but you can't tell in this image. 

Portrait:  Simplicity!
Gabriella at 16

Test Photo Session: 8-28-21
Education: Photo Illustration: Going Remote at Home
Kailey, a 17-year-old high school senior, already has a college merit scholarshipShe is taking calculus at college for dual credit.
August 2021

In-School Photo

Kailey, as a 6-year-old in my 1st-grade algebra class (TKA).
Spring 2011

Test Photographer (Children, Tweens, Teens, and Young Adults)

I often take more than 200 digital images in about two hours. The number of images often overwhelms parents and models when making selections. I have been willing to dump unprocessed photos onto a flash drive, so the parent and model can choose the images they want me to process, up to 6 images. But, most parents rely on my judgment. Also, parents can use the pictures I e-mail them to market the model, send to agencies for an online profile, e-mail to friends and relatives, post on Instagram or their personal website, Senior photos or have prints made, etc.

Note: I may discontinue putting hundreds of images on a thumb drive that a model or parent can take home. Parents and models can sit at my computer to select images for processing. 

The model and I exchange services. 

Light the eyes!

Some photographers say that the model should face the sun, which causes squinting. It is a terrible idea. Instead, place the model in the shade so that her back is to the sun, which means her face is on the shadow side and needs a fill that balances properly. Often, I use a Canon flash set to high speed attached to the camera when the location does not make a face light up.

See the photo below. It's not perfect, but it demonstrates how I approach shooting photos of young children. Pose the model in the shade with her back to the sun, and focus on the eyes! I have a sharp 85mm prime lens that I usually shoot at f/2.8 to blur the background. Note: In the photo below, I used f/4. Also, there was enough light reflected up from the concrete for fill. I came in close, so the camera metering nailed the scene correctly. I focused on the eyes.


The Charm of Youth! 😋

Em at 10 
Data: Canon 5D Mark iv + 85mm f/1.4L; Aperture Priority set at f/4 while the shutter speed floated to 1/2500 and ISO floated to 640; WB: Cloudy; EC = +.333. No flash. I focused on the eyes. Cropped slightly.
Photo from the summer of 2019.  

Tips when photographing a child: 

Get at eye level. Focus on the eyes. Get close, filling the frame. Shoot verticals. Avoid distracting backgrounds. Shoot in the shade. Keep the model's back to the sun and use a flash set to high speed as fill. Shoot at a wide aperture such as f/2.8, even f/4, to blur the background. Outdoors, try to shoot at a high shutter speed to keep the image sharp.  

Images coming straight from the camera are okay but not great until processed. My minimal processing makes them better, not perfect. I'm not in business, and I do not photoshop photos or do makeup. Also, I am not a family portrait or wedding photographer. The digital images are huge files, so typically, I downsize them to 1000 pixels across. Parents usually let me select up to 5 or 10 of the best photos, process them, and email them, which takes about a week. Processing includes minor corrections, downsizing, cropping, sharpening. Gabby (below) does her own makeup. 8-8-21

Gabby, 16, Test Photoshoot Indoors
Location: At my house
July 23, 2021

Note: Indoors, I use a painted white wall as the background to feature the model without distraction (minimalism). Richard Avedon, a famous fashion and portrait photographer, often used a white background for the same reason. Outdoors, I use lens physics (depth of field) to blur the background to isolate the model. 

Note: A well-known photographer who has written many books and articles suggests that the way to make sharp portrait photos for beginners starts with a tripod, a cable release, mirror lock-up, image stabilization turned off, etc. Really?

Let's get practical. How many photographers lug around a tripod? I don't use or recommend any of these techniques, not for beginners (or myself). In contrast, I start with a sharp 85mm lens for children, teens, and young adults, not a tripod or cable release. I use a fast shutter speed for sharpness, compose vertically, find shade, and focus on her eyes. (Image Below: Shot on 11-09-20)

Outdoor Portrait (Credit: Hannah) 11-09-2020
Eyes must glitter!

If you want good outdoor portrait-like photos, use a sharp 85mm prime lens. I am older and not as steady holding the camera as I used to be, so for outdoor shoots, I set the shutter speed range to float between 1/1000 and 1/8000 for sharpness. (It is 1/3200 in this photo.) I don't own a tripod. The ISO floats to 400 in this picture. I set the aperture to f/2.8 to blur the background. Focus on the eyes. If the eyes are in focus, the perception is that the picture is in focus. Light the eyes (flash, reflector, etc. The model should not face the sun.) Get close (fill the frame). I set the White Balance to Cloudy, and I often use high-speed flash outdoors. The Canon flash is attached to the camera. My photos are not perfect. (More about posing the model concerning the sun is found below. Equipment: Canon 5D Mark iv + 85mm f/1.4L with Canon Flash 580EXII (Note: I do not own zoom lenses, just one excellent prime lens.) 6-4-21

1. Education Photos
I shoot photo illustrations for my math website in my living room with two studio flash units. The kids I had worked with have grown up in middle or high school, even college. Models needed: K-6 school-aged children; older students considered.  Free Screening
Parents, contact me at  5-1-21          

Models need to project a range of natural expressions, from a happy face to a sad face to an angry face or anything in between.

2. Test Photos, Modeling Photos, Headshots
Photos for ports, comps, and headshots. Tips for wannabe models.

I shoot test photos for practice to keep and develop my skills. We exchange services. I do not charge fees for test photo sessions. Likewise, I do not pay models.

I use three methods to blur the outdoor background, often all three: 
1. Use a sharp telephoto [face] lens (e.g., 85mm) and 
shoot wide-open apertures (e.g., 2.8), 
2. Keep the model as far from the background as possible, and 
3. Come close to fill the frame with the model, face, 3/4.
Tip: I shoot verticals and focus on the eyes. Experiment.  

Gabby, a high school student, strikes a sitting pose. 
The model is placed in the shade under a canopy on a chilly, sunny day in early January (2020). Pastels work! 

I positioned the model in the shade so that sunlight does not spill on the face. I set the camera (Canon 5D Mark iv) so that the shutter speed floats between [1000 and 8000] for sharpness. In this photo, it is 1/1000 of a second. I also set the camera to a wide aperture to blur the background, such as f/2.8. Like the shutter speed, the ISO floats. In this photo, the ISO = 200. I focus on the eyes. If the eyes look sharp, the image "looks" in focus (perception). The cement floor provided the fill. In this photo, no Exposure Compensation was needed (EC = 0). 

Nothing beats a toothpaste smile and glittering eyes. 
Two Alien Bees Flash Units
1/250, f/5.6, Custom WB, ISO = 100, Canon T2i with 85mm f/1.8 Lens
Living Room Studio. Photo shot on 1-10-2013. 
Joyce, College Student
I shall never forget her smile. 

Tips for young models. 

After examining thousands of my images from the past 10 years, I noticed several trends that made the model stand out. First, try to stay away from black--you don't want to blend in the background; you want to stand out! Second, avoid busy patterns that distract from your face. Third, keep your hair off your face, which is your most important asset, i.e., being photogenic. To stand out, wear bright colors, not dark, dull colors. Pastels are great, too! Also, jeans, shorts, and tops should not be baggy or loose--the camera adds pounds! You don't want that. Additionally, long dresses don't work for today's youth. Kids want to look cute, so they go short! Trendy or not, avoid ripped jeans because the rips often sidetrack attention. When I look at a photo of a model in ripped jeans, I look at the rips, not the model's face or expression. Finally, young children should avoid makeup, hair coloring, and trendy hairstyles--long and straight hair works and is changeable. When you are a teen, you may need a tad of makeup. 

Simple clothing styles are better. I look for shade, keep the sun to the model's back, and watch for light spills on the face. Busy patterns, bold stripes, and trendy styles can distract from the model, which is why I like solid colors, primary colors, pastels, and classic clothing styles. Outfits should complement, not dominate, the picture.  


Eye contact with the camera is important, but so is a profile shot now and then. Outdoors, I often use an on-camera Canon flash unit set to high speed to light the eyes.

Portraiture: A Lesson in Simplicity
Sometimes, simplicity is best. Model: Kailey about 13, (July 22, 2017)

Education Illustrations
I photograph most education photos in my living room using a couple of Alien Bees flash units with umbrellas against a white wall. This photo was a horizontal shot with an older 85mm lens. White balance was customized with BalanceSmarter from Lastolite.

Below is: Photo Illustration for my science webpage. It was shot in my living room with two flash units. (Model: McKayla) 

Free Fall: d = (1/2)gt^2

According to Natasha Esch, photoshoots are excellent training and practice for aspiring young models (Esch, Wilhelmina's World of Child Modeling). Children who are photogenic, disciplined, outgoing, follow directions and display a range of natural expressions make the best models. (11-11-2020)

Note: The models I select are photogenic and have an attractive cuteness, a charming personality, and love being in front of the camera. They also have supportive parents. I do not pay models. We exchange services. I give gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc.   

My Equipment is simple but expensive. I have one L lens and one camera. 

  • Canon's 85mm f/1.4 LThe 85mm is a prime lens. (I don't use zoom lenses.) 
  • Canon 5D Mark iv 

Processing Images: I adjust sharpness, white balance, saturation, aperture, and exposure to personal taste. Also, I do photography for fun and practice and do not charge for services. I photograph individuals, not families, events, groups, weddings, and so on. I don't shoot anything I don't want to as I am not in business. Contact (for parents and visitors): 
Note: This page replaces my photography page.

Education Photos: 
Graham, 6th Grade.

Photography has always been an exciting adventure and creative outlet! However, I am only as good as the models I photograph.

My photos of children are not perfect. 
I always test the model first. Someone once said that the difference between a photograph of a person and a portrait is the outdoor background. So, pay close attention to the background. It is better to capture a fleeting expression with kids than a perfectly composed photo. In my view, the expression makes the picture. 

I shoot for expressions. I photograph headshots, fashion, assets, and skills for ports, composites, practice, and tests. For example, an asset could be long hair. A skill could be a dance leap, a cheer pose, an action shot, etc. It could be a photo of a student with a violin or flute. However, a young model's essential asset is to be photogenic, looking good in photos with good eye contact. Also, by photogenic, I do not mean perfect. All kids have imperfections.

Another asset is cooperativeness (attitude). The child should love having her picture taken. The parent must be supportive. The model's job is to help the photographer make an outstanding picture. Also, I do a lot of technical testing--test the camera, the image sharpness, the camera settings, the depth of field, the white balance, the lighting, the model, etc. Test-Test-Test!

Education Illustration: It's Such Fun!
In addition to test photos of young models, I take pictures that illustrate my math website.

Data: Manual Mode, 85mm lens, Two Alien Bees flash, 1/200, ISO 100, f/5.6, Manual (Custom) White Balance; Location: My Living Room; Model: Emma, 10; Switched to black/white.
Clothing: I like solid colors, primarily white and pastel colors. But primary colors and other colors work well, too.

I am older, so it is not easy for me to hold the camera steady like I used to. (I never use a tripod.) On the Canon 5D Mark iv camera, I can set the shutter speed to auto between [1/1000 and 1/8000]. The ISO adjusts accordingly. When I use flash outdoors as a fill, the Canon flash (580EXII) is set to high speed. I have experimented with shooting at f/1.4 for a full length (Canon 85mm f/1.4 L), and, to my surprise, the photos were sharp.
End of Insert

When photographing a model, I usually include several shots that imply or show action or motion, such as leaping and spinning.


Canon 5D Mark iv with the Canon 85mm f/1.4 L.
1/1250, f/2.8, ISO 320, AWB, EC +.333
Model: Gabby, flashing a smile.

Kailey has very long hair. The dress is beautiful. Today, she is 17 and a senior in high school, taking a calculus course for dual credit. See the photo at the top of this post.
Kailey at about 12 as a middle school student.
Data: Nikon 7000,  Flash with the Nikon 85mm f/1.8
1/400, f/4, WB=Cloudy, EC = -.333,  ISO = 100. Processed in LUCID for snap.
July 16, 2016

Ideas to keep in mind.
1. A smidgen of lip gloss helps dry lips.
2. Your child needs a smile that would melt ice.
3. Large, expressive eyes help a lot. 
4. Children should look happy and bright in their commercial headshot.
5. Portfolio photography should show the model's assets, not sell the clothing. Thus, outfits should showcase the model's best features. Avoid busy designs, ripped jeans, or any clothing that distracts from the model. 
6. Hair is an asset, so keep it long and straight. Hair coloring or fancy hairstyles are toast. Also, keep makeup to a minimum.

You must be photogenic. 
If you are serious about getting into print work, TV commercials, and film, you must be photogenic. It is the number one requirement. For children's fashion, the most sought-after size is Girls 10. Other popular sizes are 6 to 12. Size doesn't matter that much for TV commercials or films--children, preteens, teens, etc. It depends on the role. You must relocate to where the jobs are: LA, Chicago, NYC, Miami, and other minor markets. Moreover, you should practice your craft with test shoots every couple of months. Also, your child's ability to memorize lines and follow directions is important. Finally, your child must be smart. 

My Rule: Shoot photos that make the model stand out.  

Some kids don't look good in pictures. I can't change that.  

©2019-2022 LT/ThinkAlgebra
Last Edits: 5-25-21, 6-20-21, 8-14-12, 9-8-21. 11-1-21, 11-12-21, 11-21-21, 12-25-21, 2-1-2022, 2-12-2022, 3-2-2022, 3-4,22