Focus On: Lucy Schaeffer

Focus On: Lucy Schaeffer

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Carrie McBride
Feb 23, 2011

I'm excited to introduce today's featured photographer, Lucy Schaeffer, partly because she happens to be a friend of mine and partly because I know she's going to drop some great knowledge on us. Lucy is a NY-based lifestyle, wedding, food and travel photographer and I could happily live vicariously through her photos - some lush and vibrant, others natural and playful.

Although we're showing off some of her kids photography below, Lucy's assignments, primarily for magazines and cookbooks (over 20!), stretch across the photographic spectrum and her gorgeous portfolio is a treat to peruse. She is also the mother to a beautiful, active toddler so she knows firsthand the challenges in catching those fleeting moments you want to remember in more than just your mind's eye. You can find Lucy and see more of her work at Lucy Schaeffer Photography and Lucy Schaeffer Weddings.

Lucy shares with us five favorite photo items and answers some of the many questions about photography that you submitted. Lucy, take it away!

Lucy's Photo Five:

• iPhone: always in my pocket, use for snapshots and video clips daily
• Canon 5D Mark II: love my camera
• Canon EOS 24-70mm f2.8 lens: so versatile
• Canon EOS 100mm macro: Great lens for food or portraits
Drobo: not sexy but backing up so important

Reader Question: What is the best way to get shots of kids, good positions, etc.?

Lucy Schaeffer: The best advice I can give is to shoot a ton of photos. The more you shoot the better the chances are that you'll capture a winner. Shoot the un-posed moments when the kids are lost in their own games and not looking at the camera. Get down low to show the world from their perspective and add drama to your photographs. Stand up on a chair and shoot down on the kids to get an interesting angle. Photography is a physical sport!

I also like to talk to kids and try to make them laugh as I'm shooting. Instead of always hiding behind the camera it's important to pop up and show your face so that they are looking at someone they love (or at least think is funny). Camera "peek-a-boo" works especially well with the little ones.

Reader Question: I hear people say that the best way to use a dslr is to use it in manual mode. What is the best way to learn how to do that?

Lucy Schaeffer: While in the studio I shoot on manual mode as there is more control but that can be very hard to do when running after a toddler. Personally my favorite mode when I'm out and about is Av mode. That way you can choose your aperature and let the camera meter adjust for the rest. I choose low aperature for lower light situations or if you want a short depth of field where only your subject is in focus and the rest gets blurry, high aperature for when I'm in bright light or want a long depth of field (everything in focus).

If you want to learn more about your camera, however, I think the best way is to take a photo class!

Reader Question: This is probably a really basic (maybe even dumb) question, but should the light be behind me (with the camera) or behind my child when I'm taking photos outside? I just have a point-and-shoot and take lots of photos in our backyard which is very sunny.

Lucy Schaeffer: There is no real right or wrong answer to this, you will just get a different effect depending on where your light source is. The traditional approach would be to have the sun behind your back as you face your child for a photo. That way they will be evenly lit and you'll have no trouble with auto-exposure on your camera. That said, it's best to avoid bright direct sunlight as your subject will be squinting and you will get hard dark shadows on their features. Instead find a spot where they are in the shade (fine to be still standing out in the sun yourself).

If the sun is behind your child's back what you will get is a backlit shot. While trickier to pull off with a point and shoot cameras I think these can be really beautiful shots. If properly exposed, the background will blow out into white or soft color and you'll sometimes get streaming rays of light coming from behind their head. The danger with trying to do this is that your camera's meter might be tricked and expose for the bright sky instead of your child. If that happens what you'll get is a under-exposed dark silhouette of a kid and a nicely exposed blue sky. To work around this, try pointing the camera away from the sun for the meter reading, press your shutter half-way down, and then reframe your shot and click. Each camera is a little different so refer to your manual as there are other ways to adjust exposure.

Also, I would encourage you to experiment with all sorts of light—side lit shots can be beautiful as well!

Reader Question: I see so many beautifully photographed nurseries on Ohdeedoh and am looking for help taking photos of my home and especially my son's small nursery. What's the best time of day to photograph a room? Should I turn lights on or leave them all off? Any tips for photographing a very small room?

Lucy Schaeffer: I'd say the most important thing might be to invest in a tripod. That way you can shoot longer exposure shots and take advantage of natural light. If you have nice daylight coming into the room try shooting when the room feels the brightest, most likely mid-day. I'd suggest leaving overhead lights off if they are going to dominate any lovely daylight coming in but turning on a standing lamp if it adds a nice warm glow to part of the room. Really up to you!

If the room is small a wide angle lens will help. Stick your camera in the doorway looking in or climb into the closet if that gives you a good angle. It's also always nice to shoot tighter detail shots as well as the big pulled-back scene.

Reader Question: I live in a VERY sunny place (360+ days of bright sunlight). I know some people recommend dawn & dusk, but dawn is WAY too early for kids (4:30-5:30am) and dusk is often blazing hot. Any recommendations for shooting in BRIGHT light without getting everyone squinty? I guess what are recommendations for shooting outside but in shadows without everyone being dark.

Lucy Schaeffer: First of all, as a New Yorker (which you clearly are not!) I am very jealous of your sunshine problem. That said, this is not hard to work around. As I mentioned earlier, it is always best to avoid direct light for portraits. As you've noticed, everyone will be squinting and the shadows will be unflattering. Even on the sunniest days however you can usually find a nice spot of shade under a big tree or to the side of a house. Pick those spots for your photos. They shouldn't be dark as your camera should adjust the meter accordingly.

If you're finding your shots to be dark, try shooting in Aperature Priority (Av mode) and open up your aperature as wide as you can (the lowest number, 2.8 or 4.0 for most lenses). That will also give you a shorter depth of field which is nice for portraits as your subject will be in focus but the background behind them will be soft and blurry.

If you really do want to shoot in the middle of a sunny field you could also try having someone block the light for you with a flexible reflector or their own body. Or you could even experiment with shooting using the flash which can open up the shadows on your subject's face (fighting light with light).

Reader Question: I am attempting indoor/toddler/no flash photos and so many look 'soft' to me. Not blurry, but not that super crisp look either. I don't think it's the lens because sometimes they are super crisp. I just can't figure out what I'm doing as it seems like I do the same thing each time though sometimes the photos are 'soft' and sometimes they are really sharp. I know it's operator error. :) Oh, I have a Canon Xsi with a 50mm f/1.8 that I usually use indoors.

Lucy Schaeffer: Your photos are probably soft for one of two reasons. The first might be that your autofocus is choosing a point in the background to focus on rather than your subject. The second and more likely reason might be that your camera speed is too slow for a hand-held exposure. You want the shutter speed to be 60th or faster to hand-hold. Sometimes I try getting away with a 30th if I'm able to steady myself against a wall or lock my elbows against my body (human tripod!) but toddlers move quick so for those subjects the faster shutter will be better. Outside this is no problem but inside in lower light this becomes trickier.

You have a great lens to be trying to shoot indoor natural light photos with as it opens up really wide. The wider the aperature (in your case the widest would be 1.8) the more light the camera is letting in and thus the easier to shoot in lower light situations. You could try setting your camera to Av mode and choosing 1.8 or 2.8 as your aperature. Aim your camera and press the shutter part way down to see what shutter speed reading your camera chooses for the light you're in. If it reads 60th, 125th or anything higher you are probably ok to shoot away (although with a moving subject you might find 60th too slow). If your camera reads a 30th or slower the only option you have left would be to increase your ISO or film speed. Keep in mind that you want to shoot with as low an ISO as possible to avoid grain so don't bump it up unless you have to. So many things to consider! But once you get it this will feel like second nature to you and you'll get great indoor shoots of your kids. Learning to shoot without your flash is really important for natural looking photos so I'd encourage you to play around with it.

Reader Question: I would love to know more about getting images web-ready! If I want my pictures to look really nice and crisp on blogs, Facebook, etc? They always look great just viewing them on the computer, but uploaded they never look as good. How can I make them live up to their potential on the internet?

Lucy Schaeffer: I use Adobe Photoshop to get my images web-ready. A file for printing needs to be high resolution (300dpi at the size you wish to print) whereas file for web will look it's best when it's resized, sharpened and the color saturation is increased. This can be done in many ways but here's my own workflow:

1. Open image in Photoshop

2. Choose >Image >Image Size

3. Resize your image appropriately. This depends on how large it will be on-screen. For my own website images I chose a file size of 450 pixels x 562 pixels. Yours may be different than this. You want them to be smaller than 1M. Be sure that the "constrain proportions" and "resample image" boxes are both checked, then click ok.

4. You'll notice your image just got smaller (if it got bigger then undo as you already had a low res file on your hands). Choose >View >Actual Size so you can see it at 100%

5. Choose >Filter >Sharpen >Unsharp Mask (my own favorite, use another sharpener if you prefer). I would recommend keeping the Radius under 1.0 (I use 0.8) and the Threshold at 0. Then play with the Amount until it looks right…it depends on how much you just downsized your photo as to how much is necessary. I often end up at about 30 but this is personal preference. Click ok.

6. Choose >Image >Adjustments >Hue/Saturation and move your saturation slider up. I usually put it at +11. The web flattens out color so this will help.

7. Lastly, Choose >File >Save for Web & Devices. A new dialogue box will open up. Choose JPG as file type, check "Optimized" and "Convert to sRGB" but leave the rest unchecked. Keep Blur at 0. You'll see under the image preview an estimated file size. For my individual web shots I like to keep this at 60K. Move the quality slider back and forth until the file size is where you want it.

8. Save file. IMPORTANT NOTE—it's best to change your file name so that you know this is your web file and you don't overwrite your good high res print file. I usually just append the file name so "02_BabyBoy033" becomes "02_BabyBoy033WEB"

Thanks Lucy!

(All images: Lucy Schaeffer)

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