workshop announcement!

I'm SO excited to announce my super-cool 2 day workshop coming up in May! Check out the website for more information!

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For Photographers

f.a.q. -- reception lighting: using shutter speed

Last week I started a FAQ series on reception lighting. This is SUCH a huge topic that I'm breaking it down into three sections. In this post I'm going to talk about leveraging your shutter speed. If what I wrote about using off-camera flash last week was a bit too much for you or you aren't interested in investing in the extra equipment required, this post will perhaps be a better place for you to start. And if you do incorporate off-camera flash into your reception lighting, you can also use this technique to make your photos even better. I know everyone is going to ask--so I'll tell you up front that all of the photos in this post were pre-off-camera flash days for me. These were all taken with a 580EX on camera, in ETTL mode with the flash pointed straight up and Gary Fong's lightsphere on top.

The one statement you need to understand in order to accept what I'm going to share here is this: Shutter speed does not affect flash exposure. If you are shooting in a very low-light situation where your flash is going to be your main light--which is the case at 99% of receptions--shutter speed does not affect the exposure of whatever your flash hits (the subject). The reason this is true, is that your flash fires at a speed much faster than the length of time that your shutter is open. So you can leave your shutter open for a minute, and as long as there isn't any other light hitting your subject than the flash, your exposure of the subject will be the same as it would if your shutter was only open for 1/100 of a second. If that doesn't make sense, it's ok. Just know that all of this translates into the effect that your flash freezes what it hits. You can therefore set your camera on a very low shutter speed when your flash is the main light. Whenever I'm in a reception hall and the lights are turned down, or I'm outdoors after sunset, I automatically set my shutter to 1/15 of a second. The top photo is in a very dark room. There is still some ambient (constant) light sources in the background and I wanted to pull that light into the shot to give it more depth. If I would have set my shutter speed at 1/100, everything behind the couple would be pretty much black. But I set it at 1/15 and shot away with no fear of blur because the flash has the effect of freezing whatever it hits. So shutter speed does not affect flash exposure but it does affect the exposure of ambient light.

I like to slow my shutter speed way down when using flash to increase the exposure of ambient light in my shots, but it's also fun to play with the combination of motion blur in the ambient light and the frozen action of the subject. In this next shot we were outside in the pitch darkness with only some twinkle lights in the surrounding trees. It was a beautiful atmosphere for a reception but a tough environment to shoot in. There were no surfaces off of which to bounce flash. So I set my shutter speed to 1/15 and as I pushed the shutter release, I spun the camera.

Here's an example of the same effect in a more brightly lit room:

Ya, some of the people in the background are blurry, but who cares!? The couple is the main subject and they are sharp as a tack!

I took this shot so long ago that I can't remember for certain, but I believe I added a bit of a radial blur in Photoshop to increase the effect of the spin:

And here's one final shot--no spin this time but still a slow shutter speed. You can see the blurred lights in the background and even the onlookers aren't perfectly sharp, but I love the effect:

I love how purposefully moving your camera while taking a photo with slow shutter speed and flash can create motion in the shot. It's really a technique that is ideally suited to capturing the energy and celebratory environment of a wedding reception. So get out there and try it! Crank your shutter speed down to both increase ambient light in your reception shots as well as to play with the effects of motion in your images.

Stay tuned--next week I'll be finishing up this series by sharing a trick to help you focus in low light situations.

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I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly fiction--I love a good story. And even better if it's historical fiction. I read at night before I go to bed because otherwise my mind just keeps going and working all night long. It's the only thing that works. And I can't read business or self-help type books at night because that only contributes to the thinking problem. It's got to be a story.

Recently I found out about goodreads.com -- an awesome site where you can mark and rate the books you've read as well as follow what your friends are reading. I also keep a list of books I plan to read at some point in the future--so if I hear about a good book, I just add it to the list so I don't forget. It's good stuff. I like to see what type of ratings friends are giving books so that I know whether or not they are worth my time as well.

Goodreads is also available as an application on Facebook. You can add a tab to your profile page:

Or put a box along the sidebar:

Definitely check it out and add me as one of your goodreads friends!

Even though I've been most enjoying fiction lately, I like to throw in the occasional business or self-help book--you know, to get smarter; more learn-ed. I got a bunch of recommendations for Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover" and recently just finished it.

I really liked it. It was an easy and quick read and got me motivated to think through my budgeting and money management once again. He is pretty hard-core as far as encouraging people not to have any debt but their home mortgage--and even then, to try to pay that off quickly. I know not everyone will agree with his stance, but I found it refreshing and motivating. And this book is a good timely read with the state of the economy. We all need to take a fresh look at our spending and money-management habits to ride this time out wisely. Definitely check it out!

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MJ's Camera Bag


freezing our tails off

I know I live in Arizona and I never have the right to complain about being cold. Heck, it's balmy here in January. We've enjoyed temperatures in the 70s for the past week. It got so warm in my house one night that my roommate opened a bunch of windows to cool it down so the AC wouldn't kick on. Those same windows have been open for a few days now and I woke up to 65 degrees in my house this morning. Poor Dixie was shaking convulsively she was so cold! So now she's snuggled on the couch under a blanket. I don't think we'll be moving to Alaska to volunteer for the sled dog team any time soon :).

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Tips for Clients

planning the timing of your wedding

When I meet with potential clients, I always hand them this packet I've put together of tips for getting the best wedding images. While much of this responsibility falls on the photographer you hire, there are a few things you can do that will impact the quality of your photographs. I've come up with these tips over the course of the 5+ years I've been shooting weddings and they have each risen out of negative or frustrating experiences my clients or I have had on the wedding day. After the difficult experience, I've looked back and thought, "If only we would have...." and then filled in the blank with each of what turned into 4 tips. I have all of my tips listed in their entirety under the client resources section of my blog, but I thought that since it is wedding planning season, it would be worthwhile to talk about each of these tips in detail on my blog.

Today I'm going to discuss tip #1: Plan out the timing of your wedding thoughtfully.

This tip encompasses a lot of factors that will greatly impact the quality of your photography AND your experience as the bride and groom on the wedding day. The choices you make about the timing of your wedding day will impact the amount of stress you deal with, the extent to which you have the opportunity to connect with one another and the quality of your photographs--specifically as it relates to good lighting and the quantity of relaxed portraits that are able to be captured.

Whenever I sit down with potential clients to talk about their weddings, I like to get around to discussing the timing of their wedding with them. I want to make sure they are as prepared and educated with their options as they can be in order to make informed decisions that will be best for them. I oftentimes start out by asking them if they have their hearts set on not seeing each other until the ceremony. Traditionally, the groom waits to see his bride on the wedding day until she is walking down the aisle. This tradition originated with arranged marriages. When a couple was chosen for one another they were not allowed to see each other until the ceremony so that they wouldn't have the chance to back out once they saw what each other looked like. Even though today, couples marry for love, some still like to uphold this tradition. I would say about 25% of the weddings I shoot, the bride and groom wait to see each other until the ceremony. But the trend is moving in the direction of spending more time together on your wedding day which means seeing each other before the ceremony. I really believe this is the best option for a number of reasons:

1. You get a chance to connect with one another before the craziness of the day takes over.

If you don't see each other until the ceremony, you likely won't get a chance to talk with the most important person in your life on your wedding day. You see each other during the ceremony, say your vows, then are swept away by the joy and love of your family and friends for the remainder of the day. If you see each other before the ceremony, you are able to have a private moment where you see each other for the first time while you are alone. You are able to react to one another verbally and much more openly because you aren't standing in front of everyone you know. I absolutely LOVE this part of the day when couples first see each other before the ceremony. I am able to capture some amazing emotions as the couple sees each other for the first time and then we walk around the property shooting portraits of the two of them. Here's some examples of some of the emotions that can be captured when you take this route:

2. Your stress and anxiety are dissolved before the ceremony.

I've observed over 100 couples throughout the course of their wedding days and for the most part they all experience some type of anxiety as they prepare in the morning. All of their months of planning have led up to this most important day. The couples who see each other before the ceremony are anxious, but as soon as they see their best friend--get a chance to hug and talk and connect--any stress that they were experiencing completely dissolves. From that point on in the day, they are completely themselves and at ease. This is something I've seen happen time and time again and I want it for each of my couples.

3. Portraits can be as quick and painless as possible.

If you see each other before your ceremony, we can get all of your formal portraits out of the way before the ceremony so that you are free to do what you and all your guests really want to do after the ceremony--celebrate and enjoy your cocktail hour/reception. Consider these two options.

Portrait schedule if you see each other before your ceremony:

2 hours before ceremony: Bride & Groom see each other for the first time & take portraits alone together
1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits with bridal party
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits with families
1/2 hour before ceremony: Completely done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive--giving you time to go inside & freshen up.

Portrait schedule if you don't see each other before your ceremony:

1.5 hours before ceremony: Portraits of Bride with bridesmaids
1 hour before ceremony: Portraits of Groom with groomsmen
1/2 hour before ceremony: Temporarily done with portraits as your guests begin to arrive--giving you time to go inside & freshen up.

(with receiving line after ceremony)
30 min. after ceremony: Portraits with families
1 hour after ceremony: Portraits with bridal party
1.5 hours after ceremony: Portraits of Bride & Groom alone
2 hours after ceremony: Completely done with portraits

(if Bride & Groom walk down aisle and just keep walking to a secluded area)
Immediately after ceremony: Portraits of Bride & Groom alone
30 min. after ceremony: Portraits with families
1 hour after ceremony: Portraits of bridal party
1.5 hours after ceremony: Completely done with portraits

As you can see, portraits can be taken care of before the ceremony in 1.5 hours. If you don't see each other before the ceremony, portrait time will take up 2.5 hours of your day. In addition to the quantity of time being extended, the stress is also heightened when portraits are held off until after the ceremony. Gathering people before the ceremony is easily done through good communication before the wedding day. There are no additional guests present to work around. After the ceremony, everyone just wants to love on you and congratulate you and get to the bar. So many times during portraits after the ceremony, no one can find uncle Bob. More time is wasted gathering people and I have a difficult time getting everyone's attention to accomplish the task at hand. It's just more stressful on everyone.

4. You can plan your wedding near sunset.

So many brides and grooms want a sunset wedding. But natural light is vital for quality portraits. If you take care of all of the portraits before the ceremony, you have the flexibility to plan your wedding near sunset. No natural light is needed after the ceremony. If you wait to see each other, that's o.k., just plan your wedding earlier in the day so that there is at least 2 hours of daylight post-ceremony for your portraits.

These are the ways in which the timing of your wedding greatly affects your photography. But photography aside, I really believe that these factors also affect your stress level and general enjoyment of the day. When I talk with brides and grooms about the options, I'm really keeping their best interests in mind.

One other tip as it relates to the timing of your day and your stress level, is to plan in extra time between different events of your day as there are always unexpected things that come up. Getting dressed on your wedding day will take you longer than it does on any other day of your life. Girls tend to underestimate how long it will take and sometimes guys are the most guilty of this. Planning in more time than you think you will need will help everything run smoothly.

Feel free to leave a comment to weigh in on this discussion and stay tuned for blog posts on my other 3 tips for getting the best wedding images in the coming weeks!

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