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Archive for February, 2010

Anatomy of a Cohesive Blog Design

February 25th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

As someone who customizes blogs and websites, I’ve seen some bad moves. Here are my pet peeves, and how to change them for the prettier.

Let’s start with the basic, run of the mill, standard template. Chances are you have a header image or text in a box, you have a couple columns, a body with smallish images, and maybe a background image. If along the way you don’t know how to easily change any one of the elements of your blog, simply Google it!

• Your header image does NOT need to be in that double lined box. Remove it.

• If you don’t have/want an image in your header, how about your logo? You have a logo, right?

• Your blog logo, colors, and font should match or compliment your website. I mean it.

• A slideshow in your header can do a couple things. 1) It can slow down loading time. 2) It can show people a blank box while they move on and scroll down. 3) It can show lower res images that look yuck. Is that what you really want?

• Your images should fit nicely within the body of your blog. If they are too small, find a way to make them bigger. If you’re a photographer and you’re just showcasing tiny images that my good eyes can’t make out, what’s the point?

• If you’re using a background image, please oh please make it static. Scroll down and see what that background does to someone who’s not even mildly epileptic. The only thing scrolling should be the body, not the background.

• You have a profile pic on your blog. Great. Personality goes a long way, but be sure this doesn’t scare away clients. You want them to know what you look like, that you’re a real person, cool. Just make sure this pic isn’t intimidating or unflattering. Camera in hand is not necessary, unless you really do sleep with it, in which case, by all means. Or unless it’s while actually shooting a la Michelle and Stacey, of course.

• A blog that opens full screen? Really? Pourquoi?







Reception Room Lighting – It’s Easier Than You Think!

February 10th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

Lighting is the key to creating great photographs.  As professional photographers, we have been taught to look for the best light in any setting and take advantage of it to make great photographs.  For most of the average wedding day we typically have the freedom to utilize the available light to the best effect.

But what about when we get to the reception and the available light is too low?  Or just plain ugly?  In settings like this we have to create the best light for our photos.  For most of us, creating light begins with an on-camera flash.

In my first years I just used an on-camera light, bounced when possible, even in the darkest of receptions. I achieved a look that I see over and over: well lit subjects with black hole (or worse, ugly orangy tungsten) backgrounds.

Photographs like this:

In the above photo, the subject is well lit, with flattering, diffused light from my flash, but the background is dark and orange.

So one day, for kicks, I arrived at the reception site early and set up a battery powered monolight that I kept in the car for formals. I didn’t replace the light from my on-camera flash, but used it in conjunction with the flash. The monolight lifted the ambient levels in the room while my on-camera flash still lit the subject. Processing that wedding was a revelation. Instead of dark hole or ugly orange backgrounds, I had well lit backgrounds that showed off the rest of the room.

Photographs like this:

To better illustrate the difference, here are a couple of photos that I took in quick succession.  In the first of each of these photos, I only used an on-camera flash, in the second I used the on-camera flash plus an off-camera flash:

On-camera + off-camera:

Just on-camera:

On-camera + off-camera:

Just on-camera:

As you can see, the advantage of using off-camera lights during the reception is the ability to create lighting which allows you to see what is going on in the background and also to get rid of the ugly orange!

Now that you know the advantages of off-camera reception lighting, let’s take a look at how I do it.
1) I start by finding the optimal location for my light placement. For most rooms, I like to place my lights in two opposite corners of the room.

2) I set the power on the light to a level that I think will be correct based on the size of the room. For the average ballroom I typically find it to be 1/8 to 1/4 power. Keep in mind that I don’t mind shooting at ISO 800-1600 all evening. My goal is to have an exposure of f4 in the middle of the room.

3) I take a couple of test shots to determine the correct exposure at various places in the room. By breaking the room into exposure “zones”, I can quickly adjust my exposure based on where the person I am aiming the camera at is standing in relation to the lights. If the subject is closer to the lights, I use a smaller aperture…farther away from the lights, I use a bigger aperture. So if I am at f4 in the middle of the room, as the subject moves closer to the lights in either direction, I might change to f5.6, then to f8, etc.

In my head the room looks something like this (NOT to scale):

That’s it! Since both the flash power and the camera are set to manual, the only variable is the distance of the subject to the light. Much easier than fighting your TTL all night!

Here are a couple of examples from weddings this year:

This room was gorgeous but it was also a lighting nightmare!  It had 30 foot ceilings of dark wood, dark wood paneling on the walls, and dark lighting. A friend of mine compared it to the elevator in the Haunted Mansion at Disney World – and he was spot on!

Here’s a photo with just the ambient light (f1.4, 1/50, ISO3200)!

So given how we’ve been taught to bounce to avoid direct flash, I bounced over my shoulder off of the granite part of the wall above the wood. FEC at +2, 1/25, f4 ISO3200. Here’s the most my on-camera flash could give me:


Note the video light from the videographer lighting the speaker’s face. Not exactly album material.

Luckily I had arrived at the venue early, had scoped out the room, and had taken a couple of minutes to devise a lighting strategy. Here’s what I came up with:

I lit the room from both sides with small Sunpak flashes (a 383 on the left, and a 120j on the right), both set to 1/4 power. I fired them with my skyport trigger plugged into the PC socket of my camera, with my on-camera 580ex bounced off the flip-up card providing fill.

Here’s what the same scene looked like straight out of camera with the lights (1/60, f4, ISO1600):

And a couple of finished images from receptions at this venue:



So my strategy is to use the off-camera flashes to light the room and my on-camera flash to light what I am shooting.

I had a very similar room the week before.  It was an old barn converted to a reception hall. It was dark with a dark wood ceiling. There were balconies to get the flashes up high, but beams running throughout the room, so I had to be careful of shadows. My solution was to place the flashes on the balcony at a level that was below the ceiling beams, aimed straight at the support beams. This ensured that any shadow cast by the beam fell on the next beam over, instead of on a person in my photo.

Here are a couple of images with the setup:



and here’s the diagram of that room.

Every room is different, but with a little experimentation, it’s easy to devise a lighting strategy that will add a little extra pep to your reception images.

~Jamie Wexler


Nuit Blanche

February 9th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Play

Just Stunning!

Nuit Blanche from Spy Films on Vimeo.


The Orangutan and the Hound

February 5th, 2010  |  by  |  published in Play

And you thought National Geographic was just about pretty pictures.


Anatomy of a Flare Shot

February 3rd, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Shoot

One of the questions that I am frequently asked by other photographers and hobbyists is how to take a shot that has sun flare in it.  I love the look of the sun’s rays shooting through the frame and wrapping around my subjects.  Contrary to what most people believe, it’s not a Photoshop trick- it’s done in camera and it’s actually a fun technique to master (although you should be careful of your eyes when photographing straight into the sun).

First, be aware that some lenses flare more easily than others, and some produce better flare than others.  For example, I am a Nikon shooter (the D3), and I dislike the flare from my 50 1.4.  For the purposes of my work I steer clear of that lens when I am trying to produce flare in camera because I dislike the look of the flare that it produces (unless I am silhouetting my subject, in which case I don’t mind using it).  The rays are less defined and will often be punctuated by bright green bubbles in the most unfortunate spots.  On the other hand, I love the flare that my 28 1.4 produces and I don’t mind the flare that my 35 2.0 is capable of producing.  So, if I am going after nice, intentional flare, I will choose a lens that provides me with the most pleasing flare that I can get.  Whether your flare shot succeeds or fails (according to the vision that you have in your mind) can often be determined by something as simple and immediate as your choice of lens.  If you have chosen poorly, then you could be dooming your flare shot from the start.  How can you find out if your lens produces beautiful or ugly flare?  Usually a google search can help you out, but if all else fails and you are choosing between lenses that you already own, simply test them out in the same conditions with the same subjects within minutes of one another.  You may not see the difference through the lens, but I guarantee that you will see the difference in the results.

I absolutely love shooting with a very shallow depth of field- I like to shoot my lenses close to wide open, and I am usually shooting at an aperture of 1.4 to 2.8.   One of the only times that I stop down (if you don’t know what that means, “stop down” is what we say when moving to a smaller aperture/higher number) in camera is when I want to take a flare shot.  If I want less-defined flare, I might keep it at f/5.6, but if I really want prominent flare, I might take it to f/13 and beyond.  What happens to my flare shot if I forget to change my aperture and I leave it at 1.8, for example?  I will still see the flare, but it will show up as a haze rather than defined rays of light across my frame.  This is the type of flare that can be replicated in Photoshop- the Boutwells (creators of the Totally Rad Action Set) have a few actions that will add this hazy type of flare to your shot.  As pretty as that can be, most of the time when I am after a shot with flare, what I really want to do is capture the defined rays.  Therefore, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that your camera settings will definitely affect the type of flare that you are capturing in your frame.

After I have chosen my lens and changed my camera settings, I frame my subject.  The flare that you will get in your frame is affected by the angle of your lens relative to the sun as well as the angle of the light relative to your subject.  It is really easy to overdo the amount of light coming into the frame and completely blow your shot.  Play around with it, moving around the light and around your subject.  Flare will often work best if the sun is wrapping around your subject or another object — if you keep your subject or that other object in between you and the sun, it is easy to change the look of your shot by moving an inch in one direction or the other.  Flare also works well when it enters the shot from the edge of the frame; you can achieve some beautiful rays of sun shooting across you image even when you aren’t shooting directly into the sun.  Once you have set up your subject, shoot a dozen (or more!) frames so that you have different flare patterns to choose from.  Often the difference between a shot that you love and a shot that you simply like can be a matter of inches.

Keep in mind (if you don’t shoot on manual) that the camera will want to underexpose your subject because of the amount of light entering the frame. That will work if you are going for a silhouette effect, but if you want detail in your subject then it will be important to shoot in manual, spot meter or use exposure compensation when shooting into the sun.

I have included some examples of shots that I have taken that have varying degrees of flare.  When looking at these flare shots, notice that the shots with the longest rays are those that have been taken with the smaller apertures (higher numbers).



Post by Maine Wedding Photographer Michelle Turner.


A new idea for wedding announcements!

February 1st, 2010  |  by  |  published in Play

Coming soon to a wedding near you!


Assignment Series: Done Me Wrong!

February 1st, 2010  |  by  |  published in Featured, Mingle


In this installment of our assignment series, we bring you the phrase “Done Me Wrong!” Since this assignment runs through Valentine’s Day, we figured we’d run a little anti-Valentine’s Day theme.

Our assignment series is open to all photographers, professional, semi-pro and rank amateur. We’re hoping you’ll wanna play along.

Your assignment is to illustrate the concept “Done Me Wrong”. This might be a photojournalistic exercise or an artistic construction. We leave it up to you to define the phrase and how you will interpret it. The most creative entry wins! Actually, everyone wins. We will post all of the entries on our facebook page, and post a few of our favorites on our blog, complete with a link back to your blog or website.

Images should be sized to 590 pixels on the long side. If you need help figuring that out, ask your favorite Shootstyler! And by all means, slap that logo on there if you have one! Email your entry to:


The images will be used on this blog, Facebook, and a few select images may make a post on the Digital Wedding Forum, just ’cause we’ll want to show everyone’s cool ideas off! :)

We’ll have an album on our Facebook fan page. When the entries start coming in, we’ll post them there first. Check in with us at Facebook if you are looking for some inspiration.


The deadline is February 14, a Sunday. If you’d like to think about “Done Me Wrong” at events you are already shooting, we think that would be pretty keen. If you want to go do something wacky and outside of your usual style of photography, even better!

Let’s have fun doing this together!!Assignment series: “Done Me Wrong!”


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