Today's Ask a Photographer profile is a double treat as we welcome Stephanie Kaloi and Ashley Vaughn, co-owners (or is that co-conspirators?) of White Rabbit Studios based in Huntsville, Alabama. As lifestyle photographers they record the big life moments like weddings as well as the small, equally important ones, like a baby's first smiles.
In addition to their collaboration at White Rabbit Studios, Stephanie edits the website Offbeat Mama ("Parenting against the grain") and Ashley writes the blog Hi-Fi Weddings where weddings and cool music collide. A big part of Stephanie and Ashley's job is making their subjects feel comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera and this ease translates into their photographs. The seeming effortlessness of their photos belies their knowledge and experience and they're happy to share with you some of their techniques and advice.
Ashley & Stephanie's favorite gear is below and they've tackled many of your questions about gear, technique and tips. Ashley & Stephanie, take it away!
Ashley & Stephanie's Photo Five:
• Canon 5ds
• 430EX external flashes
• 8GB (or higher!) CompactFlash memory cards
• Canon 50mm 1.4 lenses.
Reader Question: I have a Canon Rebel XSi and use a 50mm lens a ton. I struggle with the autofocus not focusing on what I want to be focused. My understanding is that the red dot that shows when pushing the button half way down is for designating what to focus on. But I have a hard time moving the red dot to the subject I want focused. Any suggestions?
Ashley & Stephanie: The 50mm is such a great lens! Stephanie started with the 1.8 and now has a 1.4, and she's in love with it—we both actually have that lens now! We both also had problems with auto focus in the beginning -- honestly, and this might not be what you're hoping for, it really takes a lot of patience and practice. Also, check out your AF point selection -- is there only one dash in the middle of the LCD panel? You can scroll the Quick Control Dial to change the AF point selection, which should help with your focusing. As far as having a hard time moving the red dot to the subject, it's a little confusing...something to keep in mind with the 50mm lens is that you have to maintain a certain distance from your subject, or you won't be able to focus on it at all. Just play around with it!
Reader Question: I would love some tips on taking pictures indoors without using the flash. Sometimes I get them right, but often they are blurry and underexposed.
Ashley & Stephanie: The key to any low light photography usually lies within the lens. A fast lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, 1.2, or 1.0 are the ideal candidates and will let in the most light. You also need to be sure the shutter fires fast enough to ensure crisp, still shots.
Reader Question: Are there some simple post-production steps for the amateur to improve photos (other than cropping)? Is iPhoto enough, or do you recommend Photoshop, or something else?
Ashley & Stephanie: We think it really depends on how much post processing you want to put into your images. iPhoto is very limited compared to Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. There are also actions and plug-ins you can use in programs like Photoshop that can really help with work flow. Even something like re-sizing hundreds of photos can take mere seconds in Photoshop with custom actions.
Reader Question: How do photographers get that real color saturated look? I have
Ashley & Stephanie: There could be several ways! In the RAW editing screen there are several "sliders" that can help add saturation (i.e. contrast, saturation, and then the specific colors can each be edited to preference). Some photographers have found actions that help bump up color and saturation. Pioneer Woman and Totally Rad Actions both offer free actions that can get you used to the idea of working with them.
Reader Question: I'd love to get a recommendation on a couple DSLRs in the lower price ranges. I'd like to step-up from a point-n-shoot and have experience with a nice film SLR. I don't need a super professional DSLR, but want something where I can manually control f-stops and apertures, etc.
Ashley & Stephanie: Ashley started on an Olympus E-420 and thought it was a great way to enter the digital field. She had mainly shot film, and had a couple of point and shoots, but when she started using the e420 it really allowed her to explore digital photography and see if it was something she wanted to invest further into. Stephanie began on a Canon Rebel XT, and whole-heartedly recommends the Rebel series for anyone looking for a lower-cost DSLR. Something else you can do is look for refurbished items – you can get some pretty sweet deals on Canon 20ds, 30ds, and 40ds that way!
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?
Ashley & Stephanie: First: Facebook TOTALLY messes with the quality of photos a little bit. However, if your images are taken with a high quality camera, they're still going to look really nice on Facebook or anything online. Are you uploading them somewhere that stores the images at their full resolution (Flickr is a great example of a site like this)? If you're uploading the images and they're getting compressed by the website you're using, they're not going to look awesome online.
Reader Question: If you had to choose one lens to have with you at all times, which would it be? Oh...and this one lens takes mostly pictures of a 3-year old, 20-month old, and 2-week old.
Ashley & Stephanie: 50mm 1.4! This from a mother of a now two-year-old. :)
Reader Question: I would love lens advice too! Particularly, 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.
Ashley & Stephanie: The 50mm lens will accomplish this!
Reader Question: What is a good lens for low lighting? Or any low lighting tips would be helpful.
Ashley & Stephanie: Any lens that offers a maximum aperture greater than 2 will usually suffice in most low lighting situations. 1.4, 1.2, and 1.0 are the top contenders.
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?
Ashley & Stephanie: Stephanie actually wrote a piece on Offbeat Mama (the website I edit) about this very topic: Surviving a family photo session with your happiness intact. As she wrote in that piece, one of the biggest questions a lot of parents would ask is to shoot in a location that your kids are comfortable.
We're always try to shoot at the home of the family, on in a park or playground that the child(ren) is/are familiar with. As far as clothing, you need to be COMFORTABLE-- we don't mean that your style should change, but that everyone needs to be wearing outfits they know make them look awesome. If you're worried that the shirt you bought the day before the session might not be complimentary on you after all, this worry will show in the photos. Coordinating your clothing is totally up to you -- different strokes for different folks!
As far as what else you should think about, make sure you discuss in detail about your photographer's packages and the services they offer. Basically, make sure you know what you're getting before the session begins. Ask about print releases, contracts, and session fees, and always feel free to ask anything you can think of, even if it seems silly.
Reader Question: I'm considering hiring a photographer for an in-home baby shoot when my twins are born in a few months. I often come across websites and blogs of beautiful photographers but I have no idea how to start finding one in my area (besides a cheesy portrait studio). Is there some kind of online directory I should know about?
Ashley & Stephanie: Something we would suggest is simply turning to Google -- search for something like "[CITY NAME] lifestyle photography" or "[CITY NAME] family photography." For example, when you search for "Huntsville family photography" (Huntsville is where we're are based), and click "Images" on Google, you can SEE examples of work from your area photographers.
Also, Most photographers (or their web designers) know to use key words in titles and tags to help search engine optimization. If you have an idea of what you want your photos to be, try a search with your home town or state name. For example we (White Rabbit Studios) are a top hit when someone searches "lifestyle photography Huntsville"
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?
Ashley & Stephanie: Read the instruction manual....and practice. A common step most people skip over is reading the manual. There are so many hidden menus and options not obviously available on most DSLRs. It's imperative to know where features are and how to access them. Reading the manual is also a great way to brush up on terminology and possible learn a new skill on your camera. Every camera is different, and it's important to know exactly how to use your tool.
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.
Ashley & Stephanie: For client sessions with White Rabbit Studios, we break it down into the names of the clients, and then what type of event (ie Amanda and Daniel Engagement or Brandy and Michael Wedding). It's just easier for us to associate the names of our clients and their event, as opposed to date.
(Ashley) For personal photos, I'm totally opposite. I'm big on blogging, and have found it's best to organize my photos by date. I lost an entire livejournal when a previous photo hosting site crashed, and I was left with broken image files. Luckily, I had the dates of each post to relate back to which photos went where. My folders are named by the month, date, and then year (e.g. 1.18.11). I tend to take a lot of photos over several days before dumping them on the computer, but if it is a specific event, I will note it next to the date (e.g. 1.18.11 (Crash Boom Bang Theatre)).
(Stephanie) For my personal photos, I do something very similar – I have a "master folder" of images, and within that everything's broken down by month & year (February 2011, March 2011, etc.).
Thank you Ashley & Stephanie!
(All images: White Rabbit Studio)
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