For Photographers

Back button focus

It's been a couple years since I last posted about one of the biggest things that revolutionized my shooting -- back button focus. And I still talk to photographers who aren't familiar with it and haven't taken the steps to adopt this superior focusing method. If you're one of them -- STOP EVERYTHING NOW. And do this. You'll thank me :).

In my conversations with other photographers many of them share frustration with not being able to focus as consistently or accurately as they'd like. The biggest thing that has impacted my images in the realm of focus is switching from using the shutter button to control focus to using the back * button to control focus.

The idea is to separate the focus function from the shutter function. I love it because when I'm shooting a stationary portrait or some situation where the camera to subject distance is constant, I can lock in the focus (push the * button with the focal point on the spot I want in focus, then let go of the button) and shoot away, even re-composing, and the focus will stay dead-on. This has also freed me up from constantly changing my focus points which I used to do because I wasn't confident in the shutter locking the focus. I now leave the center focus point selected and recompose after locking in the focus using the * button on the back of the camera.

In the situation of a moving subject, I also like the back button because it allows me to track the subject and still get consistent focus. For processionals and recessionals I put my center focus point on a point of high contrast -- generally on the man's torso at the point where his jacket meets his shirt:

The reason I put it there rather than on an eye is that, with moving subjects, it can be difficult to keep the focus point on a small area. If I focused on his eye, there's a good chance the focus box will overlap his head and the background and I could end up with plenty of beautiful shots with the background pristinely focused and my subject blurry. So it's better to pick a spot like a torso that has more surface area. Also, my camera is generally equidistant from the torso and the eye (they're on the same plane equidistant from the camera) so even if I'm shooting with a wide open aperture (the above shot was taken at f1.2) I will get the eye in focus. With my camera in Al Servo mode (always leave it there -- never take it off) I can just hold the * button down and keep shooting constantly and the focus will track the subject. It's a beautiful thing!

If you want to try back-button focusing, you need to change some of your custom functions. Follow these instructions once and you're set! You should notice that your camera will focus when pushing the * button but when you push the shutter button, your focus will not be impacted.

Here are the settings for the Canon 5D Mark II:

1. Under C.FN IV: Operation/Others set #1 to "3:AE lock/Metering + AF start" and #2 to "1:Enable"
2. Turn your AF setting to AI Servo. Leave it there from now on and never take it off.

For a Canon 5D:

1. Go to custom function 4 and set it to setting 1. (setting 0 is default)
2. Turn your AF setting to AI Servo. Leave it there from now on and never take it off.

For Nikon users:

1. Go into your custom settings menu
2. Select A (autofocus)
3. Select A5 (AF Activation)
4. Choose AF-ON only
5. Use "AF-ON" button on the back of your camera to focus

When I first switched to back button focus it took me a little getting used to but I feel so much more confident in my focus being dead-on with this system.

If you found this tip helpful, click here to find out about other resources I offer photographers!

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Associate Weddings, Michelle, Rachel, Tina

Best of Associates vol. 1

These three gorgeous women are my associate wedding photographers. They do a fabulous job shooting weddings for Melissa Jill Photography and their packages range from $1,200 - $6,000. Hiring them is a GREAT alternative if you can't afford to spend $6,500+ on your wedding photography, but you still want the quality and service that comes with the Melissa Jill brand.

I don't regularly blog our associate weddings, but every few months I am going to share some of my favorite photos from these weddings with you so you can get a glimpse into the amazing talent of these girls.

This first set of images are from weddings shot by Rachel. I love this picturesque setting in snowy Sedona:

Love this shot through a pine tree:

This couple was so sweet together:

These next images are from weddings shot by Michelle. I love the emotion she was able to capture:

And finally, here are images shot by our associate photographer Tina. These just make me smile.

Yay! I'm so proud of these girls and thankful for their amazing talent and the heart they bring to every event they shoot.

To find out more about our associate program and see more of Rachel, Michelle and Tina's work, click here. If you are interested in hiring one of them for your upcoming wedding, click here and fill out our contact form!

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Album Design Templates


Frivolous Friday vol. 6

Frivolous: playful, lighthearted, trivial; the little things in life that should be savored.

Favorite Outfit of the Week: Polka dot dress (with pockets!): Delia's / Coral cardigan: Anthropologie / Belt: Urban Outfitters / Boots: Cathy Jean / Necklace & earrings: probably Target / Boot socks: Madewell

If you're here in hopes of following my adventurous, glamorous life, prepare to be disappointed. The above outfit was basically the only time I got out of my PJs all week.

Canceling a 10-day trip is a great way to free up your schedule. This week was WIDE open. But I managed to fill it with blowing my nose a hundred gazillion times, taking another decongestant, writing a 27-page manual, ordering canvases, color-correcting a fun styled-shoot, multiple naps, and blowing my nose another gazillion times.

Highlight of the week: Our office was a sad state of affairs with me, the sickling, taking care of cute, can't-move-my-neck, permanently-affixed-to-the-ice-pack Sara, who was in so much pain that she had to go to the chiropractor FOUR times this week. It made me feel better to get to take care of someone who was even worse-off than me. And we did have a few good laughs at our own expense.

Yes, I did this:
1 -- Had the esteemed job of picking up anything that fell on the floor since Sara couldn't bend that way.
2 -- Ate a really tasty arugula salad in front of people like a cow eats grass. Couldn't figure out how to eat the thing without lettuce sticking out of my mouth. Some things should not be served at events with other people at them.

Celebrating: Even though I spent the week sick and didn't get to visit the friends I had hoped to see on my trip, I still had enough energy to get a few major tasks checked off my list. Huge sense of accomplishment.

Went to a great industry networking event and reconnected with so many great vendors in the Phoenix area. Networking was one of my tougher challenges when I first started my business. But now it's one of my favorite things to do. I feel so blessed to have cultivated so many genuine friendships with some really great people who I get to work along-side. Now, when I attend industry events, instead of feeling like the awkward kid in the corner, I feel like I'm walking into a family reunion and catching up with some of my favorite people.

Feeling Blessed: I have the sweetest dog who snuggles me, even when I'm sick, a job that I never tire of, and so many things to look forward to.

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MJ's Camera Bag

For Photographers

Guest Post: What it's like working for MJ

Hey there, folks! For those of you who don't know me, I'm Sara - Melissa's full-time Office Manager. I've written on Melissa's blog before about a high school senior that I photographed late last year, but never have I written an entire blog post as a guest blogger before, nor have I ever written a blog post AS Melissa (in case inquiring minds want to know). Needless to say, this is SUPER exciting and quite a treat for me!

I'm often asked by other photographers, "What is it like working for Melissa?". Since that question is so common, we thought it might be fun to have me answer that for you right here on the blog! So, without further ado, I give you the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to working for the infamous, Melissa Jill. PS. Originally, I decided not to write it in a "day in the life" format, but Monday just really illustrates our working relationship. Plus, I'm currently writing this post from my home, and here's why:

On Monday, I woke up with an extremely sharp pain in my upper back directly on my spine. After a few attempts to crack my back with no relief, I panicked. Realizing that this was way more serious than I have ever experienced before, I immediately called Melissa. I mean, doesn't everyone call their boss FIRST when they're in serious pain? I was on the verge of tears, and wasn't sure what to do. Go to the doctor or see the chiropractor? Melissa recommended the chiropractor. Fact #1: Melissa is always right.

My appointment wasn't until 4:45pm. There's nothing worse than having to wait for an appointment when you're in tons of pain, and I certainly needed a distraction from it, so I decided to get ready for work. But there was no way I could shower - I could barely get my arms over my head to change - so I pretty much looked like death. Fact #2: It doesn't matter what I wear to work, what my hair looks like, or if I put on any makeup - I won't get judged for it. In fact, half the time Melissa doesn't care what she looks like either unless she has a meeting. We typically joke about who looks the "prettiest" each day.

I strolled into work around lunchtime, which is not the norm by any means, but it shows Fact #3: my schedule is just as flexible as if I were working for myself. Typically, I get to work between 10am and 10:30am, because Melissa and I are so not morning people. Although, we strive to be one day. (Haha, we'll see...) As soon as I figured out how to get out of my car without screaming in agony, Dixie came running outside to greet me. Fact #4: Dixie gives the BEST greetings EVERY morning, so I always start my workday with a big smile! Having her around is a super cute distraction and always keeps things interesting on a day-to-day basis. There's never a dull moment with that long-lashed, sweet girl.

Since it was lunchtime, I asked Melissa if she wanted to eat before I got too "comfortable" at the computer. Fact #5: Whenever possible, we eat lunch at the same time. It's usually only for about 30 minutes or the length of a television show that she has Tivo'ed. It really does feel like I work from home, because I have a cabinet and space in the fridge to keep my own groceries. And we always share if one of us is out of turkey or OJ. Since I couldn't move very well, Melissa offered to get anything I needed - water, ice, food, etc. And instead of watching TV, she sat with me at the table so I wouldn't have to eat alone in pain. Fact #6: My boss is more thoughtful than your boss.

Continuing her thoughtfulness, Melissa helped me get comfortable at the computer, so that I could check my email and take care of a few important tasks without being in too much pain. I do any number of things throughout the day, and it can vary depending on what we have going on. Since we are a small business, I have my hands in everything. But I'm sure some of you are curious to know exactly what I do, so more on that in an upcoming post! Fact #7: I'm given a lot of freedom and leadership. When Melissa hands off a project to me, I own it. She has identified my strengths, and wouldn't send it my way if she didn't think I could handle it. I'm given the authority to make decisions and to figure out how to make it successful. I'm always allowed to seek her advice, but some things are ultimately my decision. Pretty cool! And because I need to balance so many different projects at once, I keep a pretty detailed to-do list. Fact #8: Melissa loves to add to my to-do list, which can happen at any moment and usually happens at least 2-3 times a day. She especially loves to give me tasks she doesn't particularly want to do. And since we're so similar, you can pretty much bet that I don't want to do them either. Haha. But someone's gotta!

Fact #9: Melissa loves to talk through her thoughts with me, but most of all, she VALUES my opinions. She is currently preparing to launch a project that I think you all are going to LOVE, so she is knee-deep in problem solving right now. Our workdays have included a lot of discussions as of late. I love feeling confident and not afraid to give suggestions or ideas, knowing that she won't take them lightly. AND she'll always give me her honest opinion in return, so it's really a collaborative effort. Fact #10: Melissa often tells me I'm wrong. Hahaha! Jay kay. I kid, I kid. But we really are point-blank honest with each other. It's pretty fantastic. I feel so fortunate to be in a work environment with such open communication. Of course, we're always considerate of each other's feelings, but I never feel like I can't say what's on my mind.

At 4:15pm, it was time to go to the chiropractor. Most employers will simply wish you luck and hope you feel better quickly. Melissa went above and beyond by offering to DRIVE me to my appointment AND helped me change into one of those embarrassing gowns for X-rays AND stayed with me for the results AND sat with me while I got electro-therapy AND this all took about 2 hours or so out of her day. Fact #11: Melissa is not just my boss; she is a very close friend, an older sister, a mentor, a confidant, someone who loves me for me, and cares for my well being. We listen to each other vent about boy troubles, lost love, and help each other heal from a broken heart. We encourage each other to have work-life balance...okay, so I encourage Melissa to have good work-life balance, haha...and she encourages me to be more healthy. And to top it all off, Fact #12: I feel appreciated on a daily basis. Melissa is always telling me how much she appreciates me and the work I do. And sometimes, for no reason at all, she'll give me a little gift.

Do I have a dream job or what?!! It may seem like I glammed it up, and only told the positives. But I swear, we rarely fight or have disagreements. It doesn't mean that they don't happen though. Melissa is not perfect. I am not perfect. I make plenty of mistakes that upset her, and she can drive me a little nuts at times. We both want things to always be perfect, so there are moments when we get overwhelmed and stressed out. Sometimes, she'll sit in the other room so we can have some space and there are times when I love her being out of the office. The key is knowing how to communicate through those negative feelings. They are inevitable in a small office envirionment, and you have a choice on how you react to situations and control your emotions. I think we do a darn good job of communicating and working out issues when they arise.

Well, I hope that gives you an idea of what it's like working for Melissa! There's plenty more I could talk about, but this post is already a novel. I'm an open book, so feel free to ask me any questions and I could always answer them in a future post.

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For Photographers


There are still spots left in the summer MJ2Day workshops in Maryland and California, and I thought it would be fun to give a MASSIVE prize to the first person who refers someone to take one of those spots!

The winner must be signed up to attend the workshop (either already signed up or someone who signs up now) and must also refer a friend who then signs up. The first person to successfully do this will win their choice of one of the following....

A FULL YEAR ShowIt Subscription (valued at $429)
A FREE SPOT in Jared Platt's Lightroom Workshop (valued at $300)

Both of these prizes, afforded by our generous sponsors, are CRAZY-AWESOME. I use ShowIt for both my MJ2DAY website and my Album Design Templates website and I LOVE IT -- I love that I can customize and update my sites so easily. And Jared Platt is the Lightroom/Workflow MASTER. He will help you get your workflow streamlined in no time. You can't go wrong with either of these prizes.

SO get on it!! Think about all your photographer-friends who could benefit from coming with you to the MJ2DAY this summer. Encourage them to sign-up. They will be indebted to you for the rest of their lives for giving them the nudge that helped them take their businesses to the next level, you will have a friend to show-up to the workshop with, AND you will win an amazing prize!

OH -- and to clarify -- I'm giving away TWO prizes -- one for the first person to refer someone to the Maryland workshop and one for the first person to refer someone to the California workshop.

To get all the details and to register for the one of the summer MJ2DAY workshops, click here to go to the official workshop site! When these prizes are won, I will add a notice at the bottom of this post announcing the winners! So if you don't see one now -- it's still up for grabs!


Edited to add:
The give-away for the California workshop has been scooped up but we are still looking for a winner for the Maryland workshop!

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