Category: Technical Tips

Tuesday Photo Tip – Frame It

To frame or not to frame – not a famous quote but it can be a difficult question. Most of our personal photos are not going to be prominently displayed in our home. Most personal photos are family snapshots that will be shared on social networks. For those, snapshots are perfectly adequate.

But, what about those that we wish to frame and display prominently? That great shot of our newborn opening their eyes with a big smile – how do we frame that? How do we know if the thumbnail we view on our cell phone camera will look good when framed?

To be brutally honest, most of our snapshots will not look good in a moderate to large frame. Lots of nits we don’t notice when viewing the 2″ thumbnail are going to be clearly evident when we print to a larger size. And for that matter, what size is adequate? Do we have enough resolution (# of pixels) to create a moderately large print? Let’s take a look at some size comparisons.

This display will give you some idea of relative sizes.

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Here we see a family portrait and a standard 8′ sofa. An 8×10 print may be sufficient for a desk frame but it’s clearly not going to cut it as a wall display. Even the 16×20 print (size of the photo – the frame is significantly larger) is going to seem inadequate when hung over your sofa.

Let’s start with that 16×20 print and see if our file has the resolution needed. If we upload our file to Costco for printing we may very well get a warning about picture size and pixel count. We’ve put together the table below to illustrate the issue with common photo sizes.

Most professional print shops will require 300 pixels per inch of print (ppi) to ensure sufficient resolution/clarity. Print with a significantly lower ppi and the picture will not look good. But let’s consider that the larger the print the further we stand to view it. In other words, large prints don’t need 300 ppi resolution at normal viewing distances. Just be sure to keep the pixel peepers at bay.

The table above has recommended pixel counts vs. picture size. Small prints up to 9×12 should support 300 ppi because we move closer to see a 9×12 than a 24×30. Larger prints, such as the 16×20 example above should support 240 ppi. without any perceived loss of clarity.

OK – enough about ppi. How do I know if my photo has enough ppi That’s what our table shows in the Photo Size (Mpix) columns. For those that care, here’s the math.

Let’s look at a 12×16 image. We need needs 12×240 = 2,880 pix; 16×240 = 3,840 pix for a total pixel count of 2,880×3,840 = 11.1Mpixels. Great – your camera has 12 Mpixels so we should be OK at 12×16.  But anything larger than that starts to become an issue. The 16×20 is well beyond our cameras reach.

What do we do for large prints? Hire a professional is the best approach. You just can’t expect a cell phone camera to support large prints.

Next week we’ll continue this theme and give tips on how to choose frames for the professional quality photos that will become family heirlooms once they are framed. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site. We also post favorite photos, along with an explanation of how it was captured, on our Pinterest page – follow us there and join in the fun.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips that cover topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if  you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.

Laguna Niguel Portrait Photographer – Tuesday Photo Tip – Mystery of Flash Solved

I came  up with the idea for this Tuesday Photo Tip while talking to a colleague on the East Coast. He was snowed in. I jokingly promised to send him a photo so I snapped this shot of our bedroom with the French doors wide open illustrating “another day in paradise” weather.

The reason for showing this is to illustrate today’s topic. We will give you a simple three step process that will allow you to fully utilize your flash. Three easy steps. Follow along for details…or jump to the end for a list of the steps.

For this “day in paradise” photo I knew I would need flash to balance the outside and inside exposures. That’s done by using your flash and shooting in manual mode. Don’t panic – we’ll list the simple steps you should take.

Here are a few pictures of our backyard at the time I took the bedroom picture. It was a partly cloudy day with big fluffy white clouds.  If I exposed for this outside scene the bedroom would be deep in shadow. So let’s add some light to the bedroom to balance the two exposures.

Why are there two exposures you ask? Great question. The answer (below) will eliminate the mystery of flash photography. Once you understand the two exposures you will master flash photography.

Let’s talk about the first exposure. Exposure #1 is the foreground/bedroom which is lit predominantly by the flash on my camera. The flash exposure (exposure #1) is controlled by the aperture YOU choose and the flash power YOUR CAMERA chooses.

You pick the aperture – let’s say f/4 – and the camera will determine the amount of power the flash should produce. Looking at the aperture illustration above you can see that it would be difficult for the flash to pump enough light through a tiny aperture (say f/16).

Here are the first two steps. Step #1:  set your camera to manual mode. Step #2: set your aperture to f/4 (read this post to learn why manual mode should be used for flash photography). The next step is handled by your camera –  it will automatically choose the flash power needed to properly expose the foreground/bedroom.  Exposure #1 is set – f/4 with the camera determining flash power output.

Simple, let’s move on to Exposure #2 – the background – which in this case is our backyard. The flash exposure won’t affect the background – it’s just too far for the flash to have any impact. Here’s a better example of that point.

I used foreground/background exposure balancing for this photo of Rebecca and Doug at Hoag Hospital. In this photo the background is Newport Harbor. Obviously the flash can’t add any light to that.

So let’s dial in Exposure #2, the background. Exposure #2 is determined by the aperture and the shutter speed. That’s no surprise. It is what you are used to considering when you shoot with no flash. But notice – we now have another knob to turn: shutter speed.

For this exercise we’ve already chosen the aperture (f/4) for the flash/foreground exposure. That’s also used in the background exposure. We now are left with a shutter speed decision – nothing more.

We’re looking for a shutter speed that will correctly expose the backyard/background. We find that by doing Step #3 – roll the shutter speed dial until your camera tells you the exposure is correct. You can adjust it to your taste. Often times we will underexpose the background just a bit to get those deep colorful skies as shown in the photo below. The couple is lit by off-camera flash – the background is underexposed by 1 stop.

Maybe you want a high key portrait as shown below. In that case you would choose a slower/longer shutter to let more background light in.

Changing the shutter speed to add flavor to the background exposure will not affect the flash/foreground exposure (determined solely by aperture and flash power).

Find that hard to believe? Try this simple exercise. Take a photo of any object (vase, fireplace, …) in your home with the room lights dim and blinds/drapes closed. Now change only the shutter speed and take that same photo. Check it out – no difference in the exposure because flash exposure is independent of shutter speed. We talked a bit more on that in this earlier post and used the example photos below.

So, to recap, pick a scene that includes a window on a bright sunny day. Then choose an aperture of f/4 and take the photo with different shutter speeds. Start at 1/200 sec, then use 1/100 sec, then 1/60 sec. Be sure you’re at a low ISO otherwise the background will be blown out at 1/200 sec.

See what’s happening? The flash exposure is constant and the background exposure gets brighter as you change (reduce) shutter speed.

That’s the key to flash photography. Really, it’s that simple. Shoot in manual, choose a reasonable aperture (no higher than ~f/8) and dial in the background exposure with the shutter speed. Then flavor to your taste (higher shutter speeds for colorful skies, lower shutter speeds for high key backgrounds). Want that in easy to see steps:

Step #1: set your camera to manual (Try it, you’ll like it – we promise. Your camera will automatically determine the appropriate flash power).

Step #2: Pick an aperture – anywhere between f/2.8 and f/8 will work for most situations.

Step #3: Dial the shutter speed to taste (stay somewhere between 1/15th and 1/200th). Long shutters (e.g. 1/15th) brighten the background, short shutters (e.g. 1/200th) darken the background.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site. We also post favorite photos, along with an explanation of how it was captured, on our Pinterest page – follow us there and join in the fun.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips that cover topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if  you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.

Laguna Niguel Family Portraits – Tuesday Photo Tip – Shoot High ISO

High ISO shooting represents a major advancement that your camera, if it was bought in the past few years, brings to your photography. In this post we’ll discuss how you can take advantage of your newer camera to take photos that just weren’t possible earlier.

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The first step in this lesson, if you’re willing, would be to read this free resource paper on exposure. It will go a long way towards explaining ISO.  We also covered ISO in an earlier series of posts on exposure. If your pressed for time we will cover enough in this post to allow you to shoot at high ISO with confidence.

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ISO “speed” determines your camera’s sensitivity to light. All cameras, DSLRs, point & shoot,  even today’s camera phones, enable moderate to high ISO allowing you to photograph in dimly lit situations. I took this photo of Rebecca and Jeremiah in the neonatal ICU. Obviously flash was not allowed. High ISO (1600) came to the rescue and allowed me to capture this heartfelt image.

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You can usually safely shoot at an ISO two “stops” below the maximum ISO your camera supports. So if your camera supports ISO 1600 I would guess you’ll get “OK” results at ISO 800 and great results at ISO 400. ISO values higher than your camera can support will result in “noisy” pictures.  Moderately priced point & shoot cameras can now shoot at ISO 800+. It’ll take a bit more of an investment to get to ISO 1600 and beyond.

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Here’s an example of a test I made on a Canon 5D II a few years back. The photos of Rebecca, taken at a pro photography seminar, were shot at multiple ISO values. If you look closely you’ll see little-to-no noise in the left panel, shot at 3200. The right panel, shot at ISO 25600, shows significant noise.

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But all is not lost. Take a peek at the panels above showing the ISO 25600 photo before (left) and after processing in Adobe Lightroom (LR). While Rebecca and I prefer to make our own noise corrections using LR, today’s cameras can make similar improvements. Just set the noise reduction option located somewhere in your camera menu.

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High ISO is the perfect tool to freeze action at your kids events. In the photos above I used ISO 4000 (left) and 1250 to allow higher shutter speeds. Think of ISO as a major determinant of shutter speed. If you need a fast shutter, use a high ISO. This will be especially important for dimly lit  indoor sporting events.

The best approach for limiting noise while shooting at high ISO is to ensure you expose correctly. Underexposure at any ISO will generate noise.

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The photo above is grossly under exposed because the flash did not fire. The right hand panel is that same image after adjustments in LR. These adjustments worked well because the original image was a RAW file (not a jpg). The benefit of shooting RAW is off topic. We’ll get to that in a subsequent Tuesday Photo Tip post.

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However, this photo is relevant for this post because it was shot at low ISO (320) and yet you can see in the blown up section above a significant amount of noise. So the moral of this photo is this. “Expose correctly and you’ll be able to shoot at high ISO without noise.

The photo below from the Chino Air Museum was shot at a much higher ISO (4000) but it needed no noise reduction because it was properly exposed.

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The photos below demonstrate two more benefits of high ISO capability. The photo from the Long Beach Aquarium would not have been feasible with a flash. High ISO made it possible. The photo of the Empire State Bldg would not have been possible without high ISO. Shooting at a low ISO would have required a long shutter speed and use of a tripod. Tripods are not allowed on the viewing deck of the Rockefeller Center.

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Taking low light photos has never been easier. Take advantage of your cameras high ISO. Crank it up, expose correctly and capture those photos that weren’t possible before you bought that new camera.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site. We also post favorite photos, along with an explanation of how it was captured, on our Pinterest page – follow us there and join in the fun.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips that cover topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if  you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.

 

Tuesday Photo Tip – Metering Modes

It’s been 10 weeks since we posted a Tuesday Photo tip. We could explain how life gets away from us at times, but everyone lives that at some point. We will limit the size and scope of future Tuesday Photo Tip posts.

Our earlier posts (forty-six and counting) cover quite a bit of ground (composition, technical & gear tips, etc.). We  hope you look those over to see what may interest you. Just review the Blog Categories list on the right-side panel of this blog or type a keyword in the Blog Tags search field.

For today’s photo tip we will explain and show examples of the three major exposure metering modes. For more on exposure please feel free to review the multi-post series on proper exposure starting with this post and culminating with this recap. Today we’re going to talk about the metering “modes” that your camera uses to determine the correct exposure.

Your camera has three significant metering modes. Other modes are variations of these three. The graphic below shows Canon’s metering mode icons on the left. Nikon and others have very similar icons which are meant to convey the metering mode specifics. The illustration on the right shows what parts of the frame (scene) are considered in each of the metering modes. The nine boxes illustrate the location of focus points on earlier Canon cameras and are not relevant to this discussion. Be sure to read the note at the bottom of the graphic.

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Here’s the explanation of evaluative metering mode in Canon Users Manuals: “This is an all-around metering mode suited for portraits and even backlit subjects. The camera sets the exposure automatically to suit the (entire) scene.”

Well, we’re not sure anyone would consider that a very useful description so here’s ours. Evaluative metering (called Matrix in Nikon Land) is the mode that you should use more than any other. Consider it your default mode. As shown in the graphic above, evaluative metering chooses an exposure based on the entire frame. To help understand evaluative metering we’ll review the alternatives and then return.

In spot metering mode your camera only evaluates the center 4% of the entire frame when determining the correct exposure. That’s quite a difference from evaluative metering and would be used only if there is a big difference in scene brightness. Consider the example photos below.

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Here’s an example of spot metering vs. evaluative metering. The photo on the left was taken with evaluative metering. The camera reviewed the entire frame. Since the background is so much brighter than the light on Dan our main subject (Dan) is too dark.

Spot metering was used in the photo on the right. I spot metered on Dan’s face and ended up with a near perfect exposure of Dan albeit with a blown-out background.

Center-weighted average metering is a compromise between evaluative and spot metering. Unlike spot metering, the entire scene is used in determining the exposure but the center is weighted slightly more than the outlying areas of the frame. The photos below compare evaluative (left panel) vs. center-weighted (right panel) metering with Dan again backlit. You can see that center-weighted average metering yields a reasonable compromise between the two extremes (evaluative vs. spot). Dan is well exposed and the background is bright but not totally blown out.

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So, why do we (and camera manufactures) recommend you use evaluative/matrix metering as your default metering when the other options did a better job in this particular lighting situation? Because more often than not evaluative/matrix metering will give you the best results as shown in the photo of Destiny on a swing.

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Camera folks  have spent a lot of time and money to develop evaluative/matrix metering mode algorithms that do a good job determining what type of scene is being metered and what area of the scene should be weighted heavily. And for the most part they get it right. Hence our recommendation to stick with evaluative metering unless you have a specific reason to go to a spot or center-weighted mode.

For the next Tuesday Photo Tip post we’ll discuss how to use exposure compensation to correct the few exposure errors that will happen when you use evaluative metering with high contrast scenes like those above.

Stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

Tuesday Photo Tip – Flash exposure & shutter speed

In this week’s Tuesday Photography Tips we’ll cover flash exposure, a trouble spot for most novice photographers. It’s easy to understand why flash photography causes so much consternation. Take everything you’ve learned about exposure and readjust your thinking for flash exposure. You need to learn a new exposure triangle and use it when appropriate. That’s all there is to learning flash photography and, quite frankly, it’s easy to do.

You’ve already learned that exposure is controlled by the three variables of the exposure triangle – aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This topic was covered at length in a series of posts starting with this one.

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Well – flash exposure is a bit different. Here’s why. Flash exposure does not depend on shutter speed. Yes, you heard that right and here’s an example of that perplexing statement.

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The two photos above were taken with vastly different shutter speeds. Granted these are busy shots that violates the composition mantra to keep it simple but they will help demonstrate the point of this post. That point is this – shutter speed does NOT impact flash exposure. Believe it – look at these two photos.

Specifically, look at the exposure on Jeremiah. Even though the shutter speeds varied by a factor of 4x (1/200 vs. 1/800) you see no significant difference in the exposure on his face. How does that work?

It works because the exposure triangle for flash photography consists of aperture, flash power and ISO. Notice shutter speed is not in the flash exposure triangle. We’ve traded flash power for shutter speed. Regardless of the shutter speed, your camera will automatically adjust the flash power to give the correct exposure for a given aperture.

So why doesn’t shutter speed enter into the flash exposure calculus? Think about this – the “flash” of light from your flash lasts a tiny fraction (~1/1,000) of a second. That’s why we call it flash!! Hence, the light on your flash subject is only available for that tiny fraction of a second. The light that illuminated Jeremiah was only on for 1/1,000 of a second – for a flash. So why would the shutter speed matter. It doesn’t except ….

…. let’s look a little closer at the background. Notice how much darker the background is in the right hand panel. Remember, the background is not significantly affected by the flash – it’s just too far away for the flash to illuminate it. The background exposure is subject to the standard triangle – aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

I wanted the background to go dark to reduce the visible clutter. Since the background exposure IS controlled by shutter speed I shot the right hand panel at 1/800 sec. Granted, that didn’t work so well but the two photos illustrate the point of this post – shutter speed does NOT affect the flash exposure. It’s simple, for flash photos you pick an aperture (more on this next week) and your camera will pick the appropriate amount of flash.

Here are some examples of what you can do when you master your flash exposure triangle and mix it with the background exposure to take complete control of the lighting – foreground and background.

These photos demonstrate that the (simple) key to flash photography is to understand there are two exposures to consider:  the background exposure – for those elements that aren’t illuminated with the flash and  the flash exposure  - for those elements in the frame that are close enough to be illuminated by the flash. Once you grasp the concept of two exposures you’ll become a master of flash exposures.

In next week’s post we’ll talk a bit more about this. We’ll tell you exactly what to do to nail your flash exposures. It really is easy once you “see the light”.

Stay tuned because next week we’ll give you practical tips on how to master your flash. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

 

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips #2

This is our second post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and discussed the #1 villain responsible for blurry photos – camera shake. We covered the four most important camera settings – resolution, compression, scene mode and ISO and included tips and a link to techniques to eliminate blurry photos.

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In this post we will dive a bit deeper into our favorite scene mode – portraits – after we touch on camera phone zoom settings.

3) Zoom with your feet

We wrote an earlier post on how optical zoom impacts perspective, a very important consideration for portraits. Today we will focus our discussion on the pitfalls of camera phone (digital) zoom.

There are two types of zoom. Optical zoom is much preferred over digital zoom. With optical zoom the camera lens is moving to increase the effective focal length. If the lens doesn’t seem to be moving it’s because the lens elements inside are on the move.

Zooming in increases the focal length; zooming out reduces focal length. Consider a common zoom lens, described as 35-105 mm. The 105 mm focal length is 3x longer than the 35 mm. This is a 3x optical zoom – the standard optical zoom ratio for digital cameras.

The optics on  your camera phone have a fixed focal length. Your camera phone can’t magnify the image – there is no optical zoom button.  Camera phones only offer digital zoom. Our goal is to convince you to use digital zoom as sparingly as possible.

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A digital zoom enlarges the image by “cropping” it. The camera chooses a smaller area of the image, after it has been captured, and discards pixels (i.e. information) outside that smaller area. Only the pixels inside this smaller area of the frame are recorded.  Hence, the camera’s resolution is being degraded.

That’s a real problem because, as we mentioned in last week’s post, image quality degrades quickly. I used digital zoom on this 10-year old photo (of me) in downtown Chicago. The zoomed image is too “pixilated”. We’ve thrown away too many pixels in order to digitally zoom.

There is a healthy way to zoom in – zoom with your feet. Get closer to your subject. Fill the frame by moving closer. We have an earlier post on filling the frame – a key to improved composition. If you absolutely can’t get closer for safety reasons or protocol issues then go ahead and use your camera’s digital zoom. But, you’ll end up with much better photos if you zoom with your feet.

3) Use portrait scene mode for portraits

Portrait mode is one of several scene modes (landscape, sports, macro …) available from your camera phone. Your camera will select shutter speed and aperture values based on the picture mode you choose.

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In portrait scene mode your camera will use a wide-open aperture. If you chose landscape mode your camera will use a small aperture. Why do you care what aperture your camera chooses? Because for a portrait you want the background out of focus to highlight your portrait subject as shown in this wedding photograph. This use of “selective focus” in portraiture is discussed in this post which introduces the concept of depth of focus.

We don’t intend to repeat that discussion except to say that the shallow depth of focus that we are looking for in portraits is very difficult to achieve with the small sensor in your camera phone. The best antidote to this is – you’ve got it – get closer to  your subject. The closer you are to your portrait subject (which has the added benefit of filling the frame) the shallower the depth of focus. It helps if the background elements you want to blur are somewhat in the distance.

The message to take away is this – help the computer in your camera phone choose the right exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed) by telling it what kind of scene you are shooting. That’s as important for landscape or sports scenes as it is with portraits. We’re just partial to portraits which constitute the vast majority of cell phone images.

Stay tuned – more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS - This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.