Focus On: Sabra Krock

Focus On: Sabra Krock

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Carrie McBride
Feb 24, 2011

We have more photography wisdom to bestow on you and today's is courtesy of Sabra Krock. I sometimes hear people proclaim that they're not "baby people" and I even know someone who has a "two picture limit" when it comes to viewing baby photos, but Sabra's work might change their minds. Through her lens these squishy, wrinkled beings become magical, captivating creatures.

Based in Manhattan, Sabra shoots "two of the best things in life: food/still life and children." Amen! In addition to her work for magazines, The New York Times Dining Section and cookbooks, Sabra works with individual clients on maternity, newborn and child sessions both in the studio and in outdoor settings. You can see more of her work on Sabra Krock Kids and Sabra Krock. She also writes a delectable blog, Spoonful, about the intersection of photography and food.

Below she's tackled many of your questions about lighting, low lighting, lens and more. Take it away, Sabra!

Reader Question: When taking pictures in the daytime without a flash - they come out all grainy! Any tips?

Sabra Krock: In the daytime, with ample light, your photos certainly should not come out grainy. It sounds like you might have inadvertently changed a setting on your camera. Check the ISO setting of your camera (a setting that determines the light-sensitivity of your image sensor, the lower the setting, the less "noise" in your images). If your ISO is reasonably low (somewhere between 100 and 400), you should not have that problem.

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.

Sabra Krock: Where the light is in relation to your camera (and subject) is really a question of aesthetic choice. With the light behind you, you will have a wash of shadowless light on your subject. With the light beside you, you will have more shadows and dimension on your subject (I am particularly fond of side light). With the light behind your subject (toward you), you will generally have a blown out background, and the colors of your subject will pop more. I like back-lighting for its artistic effect but that's it's a tougher light to work with when using a point and shoot and automatic settings. If you do use back lighting, make sure that your meter mode is set to meter around your focal point so that you have a properly exposed subject. You can see examples of the differences of where the light is in relation to the camera in a post I wrote about using natural light in a series for EstellaNYC's blog, 10 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Your Child.

Reader Question: What is the technique for photographing someone with a blackened background. How do you set up exposure on the camera? is there post processing to blacken out a background if you don't have a dark backdrop to start? i love the look of seeing a baby "floating" in a photo but am not sure how it is accomplished.

Sabra Krock: You really do need to start with a dark-ish background and/or to make sure that little to no light hits your background for those types of shots. That means choosing a spot for your shot where the window light will hit your subject but not hit the background. The darker the background, the more it will absorb any light that spills onto it, and make it easier for you to achieve the shot you describe. In post, you can enhance the darkness of the background via a curves adjustment. But the quick answer is that those shots are generally shot against a black backdrop to start. You can use anything for the backdrop including a piece of fabric or some black seamless paper.

Reader Question: I've been working with a 50mm f/1.8 for about 2 years and generally loving it but am frustrated that I can't back up from my subjects enough indoors to fit them in the frame. Is there a wider angle lens that still has a low aperture to let in tons of light, because my apartment gets so little natural light!

Sabra Krock: Absolutely. Check out B&H's website for what's available for your camera. I use a 35mm that I love but might still not be wide enough for you – I also have one in the 24mm range. You might consider renting from one of the on-line lens rental services first to try them out at home and see what you like before buying.

Reader Question: What is a good lens for low lighting? Or any low lighting tips would be helpful.

Sabra Krock: Faster lenses (allow for wider apertures as measured by the f-stop) work best in low-light conditions. Look for lenses that allow for apertures as wide as 1.2, 1.4, 1.8 etc.)

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.

Sabra Krock: Try to find areas of open shade / indirect sunlight such the shade of a tree, awning, umbrella or building. You should have plenty of light in those situations but avoid the squinting effect you describe (and also avoid blowing out the whites in your images and the harsh look of direct sun).

Reader Question: What SLR lens and settings would you recommend to take indoor photos of toddlers without using flash? I have a 55mm f/1.4 and I'm still learning to use it. The auto-focus using this lens seems a little slow. Any advice?

Sabra Krock: That lens is a very "fast" lens that is conducive to low-light photography. Shooting at wider apertures (lower f-stop number) helps in low-light conditions (by allowing more light to reach the sensor), as does increasing your ISO (keeping it as low as you can to avoid noise in your images), as does slowing down your shutter speed (but not so low that you get blur). There is no magic formula – the more you play around with those three settings in different light conditions the more you will see what you like aesthetically and what works for you. You shouldn't find the auto-focus to be particularly slow.

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.

Sabra Krock: I am not specifically familiar with that camera but I have two ideas for what to play around with 1) often times a lens can be sharper or less sharp at different apertures – so if you are generally shooting very wide-open (at 1.8 or toward the wider end) try going up to 5.6 or thereabouts and seeing if you see a difference. 2) Check to see if your camera has settings that allow you to adjust sharpness at capture – make sure you are at least in the middle of the range for sharpness or slightly toward the sharper end.

Reader Question: Do you have tips on getting perfectly focused pictures indoors? I have my camera set to focus on the middle red dot (canon rebel). I am constantly trying to focus on the eyes with the button halfway down, then recompose and take, but my 8 month old moves around so much! Thanks!

Sabra Krock: With a fast-mover, you don't have time to push half way down and then re-compose. Make sure your shutter speed is set to a reasonably fast setting (1/250th or faster if possible) and then click all the way through. The issue with a fast-moving toddler is that by pressing half way he/she is probably already out of focus by the time you click all the way through.

Reader Question: I really love candid shots of my kids, but I can't seem to get my toddler to NOT look at the camera. Any ideas for kind of blending into the background? I try to sneak around, hiding the camera behind my back, but I'm not sneaky enough for him!

Sabra Krock: Lucky you that you don't have a camera-shy child! If you are patient with camera in hand long enough, your toddler will eventually forget about it and you will get those shots you are looking for. Try not to make a big deal out of getting the shot. Just sit and play and go with the flow.

Reader Question: How can I best photograph an infant? How do photographers achieve the directly-overhead shot (stand on a chair?) so often seen in infant portraits?

Sabra Krock: Infants are extraordinarily hard to shoot and this is one time when it really makes sense to hire a pro. Not only is it hard to shoot them well, but it's also very hard to find time to do it properly when it is your own child, and there are so many demands on your time and energy. The directly overhead shots do not need to be shot from a chair – they can be easily shot standing over the child using a 50mm lens with the infant positioned on a cushion on the floor.

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?

Sabra Krock: That can be a somewhat lengthy discussion but the short answer is to not allow the applications you are uploading to do the resizing for you but rather to do that before you upload so you are in control. make sure your images is in the sRBG color space, size it for the pixel dimensions of the application you are using and resize your image to 72 pixels per inch for the web. You might also want to apply some additional sharpening to your image since lowering the resolution will take some of the sharpness out of the image. There are all sorts of programs out there that will help you with these settings, and some that will allow you to "save for web and devices" that will guide you through that process.

Reader Question: I would love to know what lens to use to get a photo in which the subject is clear but everything right behind the subject is blurry.

Sabra Krock: The effect of a blurred background is driven by a combination of the focal length of your lens (longer focal length, more blur) the aperture setting (wider open, ie lower f-stop numbers, more blur), and the distance of your subject from the background (further away, more blur). You can google "depth of field" ("DOF") to learn more about this. But the faster the lens (ability to open wider) the shallower the DOF you can achieve.

Reader Question: I would love some tips on photographing many kids at once - Seriously to get all our kids looking at anything at once let alone a camera... and twenty shots later there will always be someone with their eyes closed or crawling off or just distracted... help... Group shots with many kids!!!

Sabra Krock: Shoot, shoot, shoot – getting images with eyes open and no funny grimaces is always tricky with more than one person. Over-shoot to make sure you have plenty of options and try to engage your group in a conversation so that they are looking your way and "present" for the shot.

Reader Question: I've never hired a photographer before but my husband and I have decided that for our daughter's first birthday we're going to hire someone to do a family shoot for us. What questions should I ask a pro before I hire them? For clothing, are there some colors that look better than others? Should we try to coordinate our "look" as a family (not in a matchy-matchy way but so we compliment each other) or just each wear what we like best? Anything else I should think about as a first time customer?

Sabra Krock: When hiring a photographer, the first thing you should do is look at his/her portfolio and see if you are attracted to the style of his/her images. After that, it is important to understand the photographer's pricing, both for the sitting and for prints or digital files. To prepare for the shoot, you might want to ask about the photographer's shooting style, the length of the shoot and what you should expect. If you have any particular preferences (location, whether you want shots of your daughter alone, whether you have a particular preference for color or black and white, etc) you should start a conversation about those things so that you are both on the same page. In terms of clothing, I always regard that as a matter of personal preference and don't like to dictate to my clients. In the end, you will want to make sure you are happy with what you are all wearing as you will be looking at these images for many years to come. That said, my personal advice would be to keep things simple – not a lot of competing patterns clothing items that will look very dated years later. I would certainly avoid logo tees. I personally prefer a more casual look so that everyone is relaxed and comfortable during the shoot – but again, that is very much a matter of personal style and preference.

Reader Question: Our son is only 3 months old and I'm already feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos my husband and I have taken of him. I'd love to hear how professional photographers organize their digital photos and ways that a regular mom and dad might adopt some of these practices for our everyday photos.

Sabra Krock: There are a million things to say on this topic. Your conundrum is very common! The number one tip I would give you is delete, delete, delete. If you keep every single shot you take (many duplicates and triplicates of the same shot), all the blurry photos, all the unflattering photos, etc., you will soon be overwhelmed. The first thing I do after a shoot is cull and purge. If I don't do it right away, it doesn't happen. The beauty of digital is you can take a lot of images without it costing a penny, the downside is you don't have the discipline film created about composing and being selective in printing. After that, start printing! If the images of buried on your computer, you won't really appreciate them. Print and pin up and swap out if you want to rotate images so that you can spend time with them all. Don't feel like everything has to be professionally framed. Put them out and live among them.

Thank you, Sabra!

(All images: Sabra Krock)

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