Portrait of Hostess at a Winery Tasting Room

Directing Your Models–A Photographer’s Guide

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

On a recent Saturday, my workshop students and I spent the morning photographing produce, vendors and street musicians at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. I had found a vendor with an interesting face, nice display and a farm banner that hid their truck. I asked if I could photograph him and he looked at me for a moment and then said “Since you asked, yes”.

Give your subject something to do with their hands.

Give your subject something to do with their hands.

He immediately squared his shoulders, dropped his hands to his sides and stared at the camera. Where I had started with an animated vendor, I now had a ridged statue. This happens more often than not when I ask to photograph someone and it’s my job to turn them back into a living, breathing, engaged individual.

When photographing people, there is a check list in my head that I usually follow.

First, is the subject in the best light for a portrait?

Although this changes depending on what I want to say about the person or their job, I usually want diffused, horizontal light. Maybe I need to move them to a better location within their environment. Maybe they need to be turned slightly or moved only a foot. Don’t be shy about asking. This helps establish your authority on the shoot and their trust in you will quickly grow, especially if you explain why they will look better in the new position.

Find the best light within your set for a portrait.

Find the best light within your set for a portrait.

Second, and equally important, do they have any mannerisms I can use?

Do they use their hands when they talk? Do they smile easily? Is there something unique in their mannerisms that I can incorporate into the image?

Watch for small mannerisms

Watch for small mannerisms that you can use during posing.

Third, give your subject something to do with their hands.

Give them something to hold, something to move, something to pour. Make sure it is something they would normally do so it feels familiar. Give a subject something to do with their hands and they will visibly relax in front of your camera. It’s an easy fix.

Give your model something to hold.

Give your model something to hold. Be careful, of course, about what you give them.

Remember, photographing a model is a partnership between yourself and your subject. There has to be trust and respect and you only have 5 to 10 seconds to establish that trust. Show interest in the person and what they do. By showing interest in the individual, you encourage them to be themself, not just a photo target.

It sounds daunting, but each time you photograph a stranger, it becomes easier.

Some portraits are as much about the job they do as it is the individual.

Some portraits are as much about the job they do as it is the individual.

Get the technical stuff worked out before you approach your subject. Give your model a role to play. Become the director. Careful! You may start to enjoy this.

For more on photographing people, see our blog post  “The Shy Photographer’s Guide To Putting Subjects At Ease”


medium altitude aerial of coastal sunset

Drone Photography–It’s All About Altitude

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Often I am asked if composing a photograph with a drone is the same as creating an image at ground level. It is similar, of course, but being able to make large adjustments to the altitude of a camera adds a whole new dimension to the process.

Low altitude aerial of Knapps Castle at sunrise

Low altitude aerial of Knapps Castle at sunrise

When I am out shooting landscapes, I use a tripod and continually adjust the camera height from 1 foot off the ground up to about 5 feet high. Some times, adjusting the camera up or down just a few inches can have a big impact on a composition.

Low altitude aerial of lake produces better reflections

Low altitude aerial of lake produces better reflections than a higher altitude

Imagine having a tripod that can extend from ground level to 400 feet with infinite adjustments in between. For that matter, any photographer that can carry a 400 foot tripod would be equally impressive.

Welcome to the age of photo drones!

In an earlier post on drone photography, I mentioned that I shoot within three general height brackets—Sky High, Way Up and Tall Photographer—that cover every altitude from 10 feet to 400 feet. Notice I keep stopping at 400 feet above ground level. In the United States, that is the maximum allowable altitude for a drone. Manned aircraft have a minimum altitude of 500–1000 feet. Only a fool, or someone who gives little thought to the safety of others, flies a drone higher than 400 feet above ground level.

Because most entry-level and prosumer drones have built in wide angle lenses, at low altitude, near objects appear larger than the same objects farther away and assume more visual importance, just as if you were shooting at ground level.

Low altitude aerial of windmill and vineyard

Low altitude aerial of windmill and vineyard produces the same wide angle lens effect as at ground level

As your drone climbs higher, everything is at a distance and appears proportional to their actual sizes. Buildings and roads may be revealed that were not visible from ground level. Patterns as well. The monitor on your controller will show you what the drone’s camera actually sees, but the screen is small and the image is not easy to view in strong sunlight. Just like ground-level photography, pre-visualization is critical.

High altitude aerial of coast shows greater range of sea cliffs

High altitude aerial of coast shows greater range of sea cliffs

Pre-visualization is the key to most great photography and working with a camera drone is no different.

Block out the arrangement of components in your head so that the composition feels balanced. Fly your drone to an appropriate position and see how it looks. Usually you will fine-tune your composition by adjusting altitude or position to hide or reveal objects and then adjust your camera angle to control framing. Adjust exposure and shoot away. Then make a big change in your altitude and create a totally different image. That’s the beauty of a drone. You are working with a 10-400 foot tripod. Anything is possible.

Medium altitude aerial shows the pattern of marinas and boats in a harbor

Medium altitude aerial shows the pattern of marinas and boats in a harbor

If you are interested in drone photography, start cheap. Many photographers crash their first drone. Some crash their second and third drones. Learn to fly safely, then learn to shoot with a drone. It’s a great tool, but it can be tricky.

Future drone posts will examine camera angle and lighting direction. Check out our earlier drone post at https://santabarbaraphotographicworkshops.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/aerial-drone-photography-capturing-the-view-from-above/.

Stay safe out there.


bowl of summer strawberries photographed from above

The 4 Piece Photo Challenge

Text and Images by Chuck Place

It’s raining outside, you can’t go out and play and you’re developing cabin fever. What to do? Assign yourself the 4 Piece Photo Challenge! Sounds silly, I admit, but it’s a great tool for building up your photographic creativity.

The Photo Challenge works like this.

Pick out 4 objects or sets of objects in your home and use these to create interesting still life images. This is an exercise that I find often results in portfolio-quality photographs.

Let’s walk through the steps of an actual shoot–the strawberries at the top of this post. Item 1 was a basket of fresh strawberries. Item 2 was a bowl of complimentary color from my kitchen. Item 3 is an antique fork, also from my kitchen, and item 4 is a napkin. You can probably guess where I found that. The surface is a piece of slate I found at a stone yard. It was cheap but it weighs a ton. I think the guy discounted the price just to see if I could pick it up.

Photographs from directly above

Photographs from directly above produces a more graphic image

Food photography is one of my main specialties, so I tend to create food still lives with a slightly modern feel. Anything will work for this Challenge however—cut flowers, old glassware, your baseball trading card collection, Pez dispensers—anything. A few support items, in this case a bowl, fork and napkin, and any surface that works with your main subject and you’re in business.

Essentially you are creating a photo set.

For lighting, I like window light. It’s soft, directional and I can manipulate it quite a bit. Pick a window with indirect light flowing through it. There should be no direct sunlight passing through the window. This should give you soft edged shadows and large highlights.

Photographing strawberries at a low angle

Photographing strawberries at a low angle produces an intimate viewpoint

If you want darker shadows, move your set farther from the window or place a black sheet of matt board or foam core board on the room side of your set to block any ambient fill from the room. If you want lighter shadows, move your set closer to the window or add a white board to the room side of the set to provide fill light.

The shooting angle will also have a big impact on the success of your final image.

Placing your camera directly above a set creates a rather graphic look to the image while shooting from a lower angle, say 45 degrees, produces more intimate visual. In either case, make sure you are getting good highlights on reflective surfaces.

Change some props and the surface

Change some props and the surface to create a new set of photographs

If you want to push yourself a little, change a couple props and create a new set of images.

In any case, drop a sheet of white paper in the very first exposure and then remove it for the rest of the shoot.  This gives you a target so you can neutralize the usually cool light from the window in post-production.

These are basically composition exercises, but I always try to imbed a storyline into each still life. The top image has the feel of a warm spring day eating the first strawberries of the season. It’s challenging but also lots of fun. And no matter how my images turn out, I get to eat some of the props. I’ll have to start shooting desserts.


phalaenopsis, or moth orchids in a greenhouse

Give Yourself A Photo Assignment II

Text and Images by Chuck Place

I have too many interests! Photography is my passion, but I also love cooking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, gardening—the list goes on. Orchids have always fascinated the gardener in me and at one point, I decided to give myself an assignment photographing orchids and local orchid collectors.

Comparison of micro orchids and lemon-sized cymbidium orchids

Comparison of micro orchids and lemon-sized cymbidium orchids

Like many editorial photographers, I find a subject that interests me and start to pick around the edges of the subject with a camera. Once I capture a few interesting files, I find a client to publish the project and then dive in head first.

Orchid collector tending plants in his shade house

Orchid collector tending plants in his shade house

Everyone has their hobbies, their causes, their passions. They all make great self-assignments.

It can be as simple as photographing a short road trip up the Big Sur Coast, or as complex as—well, orchid collectors.

Studio portraits of orchids in a lath house

Studio portraits of orchids in a lath house

My first step was to ask myself why anyone would be interested in this subject. Let’s face it, orchids are exotic creatures, the butterflies of the flower kingdom. One group even has the nickname of butterfly orchids. Orchid collectors are seemingly sane individuals who obsessively shape their world around obtaining and raising orchids. Being a photographer, I can relate to that last part easily.

orchid seedling lab

cybidium orchid seedlings are inspected at Gallup and Stribling Orchids, Carpinteria

My next step was compiling a Shoot List.

This is where I determine the width and depth of my coverage and I tend to burrow in deep. Orchid portraits would be necessary, of course, in both commercial greenhouses and private lath houses. I needed to illustrate the huge variety of orchids, from large tropical cattleyas to tiny micro orchids.

Chinese Brush Painting of orchid

Chinese Brush Painting of orchid

Images of collectors would also be critical–watering, feeding, pollinating, hybridizing and interacting with their specimens. I would also need to cover orchid shows, competitions, clubs, sales and cultivation demos. This shoot list introduced subjects that needed to be researched and a list of people I would need to contact.

Orchids for sale at a commercial greenhouse

Orchids for sale at a commercial greenhouse

Finally, what was going to be the “Look” of the coverage. It seemed obvious to me that bright colors were going to be a thread running through the images.

Orchid collector in the jungle of his lath house

Orchid collector in the jungle of his lath house

I could easily photograph orchid blossoms every day for months and still not have the visual diversity of images for which I always strive. It’s easy to get tunnel vision at this point, but that is the beauty of a self-assigned project. It forces you to move past the obvious core subjects and produce a wide range of subjects that expand on that main topic. It forces you to be creative.

laelia orchid is pollinated by hand

laelia orchid is pollinated by hand

I find self-assigned projects fall into two main categories—locations or subjects.

How about spring wildflower blooms in the California deserts—if the rains continue? Wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley? This is a subject we cover n my Location Photography Spring Workshop coming up in March. Something more challenging? How about marine mammals of the So Cal coast? Saltwater fly fishing in the California surf? Did that one already. Got really wet. Summer Solstice Parade from costume development to the actual parade?

Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

A half hour with your favorite beverage should generate enough ideas to keep you busy for the next year. Step outside your comfort zone, learn to shoot a wider range of subjects and become a much more rounded visual storyteller. Get curios and have fun.

All you need is the structure of a self-assignment. Try it out!


A level camera creates parallel arches

Great Photography Tool For Leveling Your Camera

Text and Images by Chuck Place

I love my cameras! There, I’ve said it. Neither my Canon 5D MkII or MkIII has ever quit on me. They give me consistent, predictable results. The quality is great and if an image does not resonate well, I know it is not the camera’s fault.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

And once in a while, I discover a function hidden away in the black hole of the Canon “Menus” that I actually need, like a built-in level. Who knew?

Built in camera level

Simulated camera with built in level at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Level camera side to side and raise and lower lens axis until a green line runs all across viewfinder.

I am shooting more architecture lately and keeping the vertical elements in a scene straight up and down and the horizons level is critical. To achieve this, the lens axis and camera body must be perfectly level to avoid convergence, divergence or tilting horizons.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

I don’t like a grid in my viewfinder. I find it distracting when I am not shooting architecture. I have been using a bubble level that mounts on the camera’s hotshoe. It’s convenient and cheap, but not super accurate.

Viewfinder grid and bubble level

Viewfinder grid and bubble level for leveling a camera.

While watching a video by Scott Hargis on architecture photography, I almost fell out of my chair when he turned on the camera’s built-in level. Where did that come from? A quick replay showed it was hiding in the “Info” button. I normally use the “Info” button to occasionally check an image histogram, but I have never clicked it without viewing an image.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

“Hiding in plain sight” is a phrase that comes to mind.

If you are tired of shooting slanting horizons or a landscape where all the aspen trees lean into each other, read the manual and see if your camera has a built-in level. If not, the bubble level works OK and there are always corrections in post-production, but you have to love a tool that is built-in, highly accurate, easy to use and essentially free.

I love my Canon 5D MkIII. Even more now!


Slow panning image of a surfer at sunrise

Photographing The Shape Of Motion With Shutter Drag

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

My commercial photography business is all about creating very sharp images for my clients, but sometimes it’s fun to play with time and motion. Photography is basically the process of capturing light—it’s quality, color and direction. Time, however, can have a big impact on an image. The duration of an exposure, usually controlled by shutter speed, impacts much more than just the exposure. This is where the fun begins.

Most of the time we love fast shutter speeds. They “freeze” the moment. But on the other hand, fast shutter speeds also hide the beauty and grace of movement.

The swirl of a dancer, the sensuous shape of a breaking wave—these are all hidden by a fast shutter speed. Shutter drag, or lengthening your exposure, reveals a whole new world of fluid color and unexpected shapes.

Let’s explore the world of motion blur and see how we can use this technique to create more creative images.

A long exposure blurs some skaters and leaves others sharp

An exposure of 1/4 second blurs some skaters and leaves others sharp

Landscapes or seascapes with moving water are often captured at slow shutter speeds, due to the small aperture necessary for great depth of field. During that long exposure, moving water blurs and softens, contrasting beautifully with the highly detailed environment in which it flows. Very long exposures will even turn waves breaking on a beach into something that looks very much like fog or smoke.

Shooting with your camera mounted on a tripod is critical with this type of image.

Slow shutter speeds blurs traffic in L.A.

Slow shutter speeds blurs traffic in L.A.

This long-exposure approach is effective in any situation that has moving parts—traffic in L.A., a Ferris Wheel at a fair or skaters flying over the ice at a rink. Shutter speed will be used to determine the amount of motion blur you want to include in your image.

Panning produces recognizable team ropers and steer with a soft, blurred background

Panning with a shutter speed of 1/30 second produces recognizable team ropers and steer with a soft, blurred background

Panning is another photographic tool that makes use of shutter drag.

Subjects can be separated from a busy background using a slow shutter speed and panning the camera with your subject. Depending on the motion of your subject, backgrounds can become quite soft while the subject remains surprisingly sharp. This technique is often used in sports and wildlife, but takes practice in order to keep your subject sharp.

My personal favorite use of shutter drag is creating rather abstract images.

Athletes and dancers are some of my favorite subjects for this approach, but almost any subject will work. The trick in making this type of abstract image is to move the camera during exposure in a manner that is out of synch with the subject’s movements, leaving everything blurred to some degree. I usually try to keep the subject recognizable, although sometimes it’s a toss up. That’s the beauty of motion blur. You can make your subject as sharp or as abstract as you like. It just depends on your mood.

Flowers blowing in the breeze produce motion blur

Flowers blowing in the breeze produce motion blur with a shutter speed of 1/10 second

If you are interested in giving shutter drag a try, and who wouldn’t want to try it, give yourself an assignment. Spend an afternoon creating at least one image for each of the three shutter drag scenarios. I think that you will find that at least one of these techniques becomes a favorite. After all, many of us took up photography to see the world differently.

Give it a shot!


1/15 second exposure blurs Navajo Gourd Dancers.

Photographing Native American Powwows: Planning, Etiquette and Tips

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I could feel the drum beat in my bones, almost like a heart beat.

Native American dancers seemed to float just above the dance floor, red rock canyon walls towering over the dance arena. I was photographing the annual Gallup Inter Tribal Indian Ceremonial and the spectacle of so many dancers gathered together was quite amazing.

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer from the other dancers.

In the Southwest, powwows also include demonstration dances by various Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribal members in addition to the usual powwow dance categories. There is a lot going on and it isn’t always easy to capture the strength, energy and pride of the dancers in a single still image.

camera panning separates dancers

A slow shutter speed of 1/30 and panning separates a fairly sharp dancer from the other dancers.

Powwows take place all over the U.S. and Canada and a schedule of events can be found at several web sites, including https://www.powwows.com/2018-pow-wow-calendar/. These are often gatherings of many different tribal groups and have become a celebration of Native American culture.

Women's Fancy Shawl Dancers.

A long lens isolates a group of Women’s Fancy Shawl Dancers.

Before we get started, let’s talk first about etiquette at these events.

Not all powwows allow photography. Some allow still photography but not video. Some will allow photography but no sound recording. Do a little research and make sure photography is allowed before you pull out a camera.

If photography is allowed, that generally means in the dance arena or demonstration areas only. If you come across a dancer outside these venues–always, always, always ask permission! Never step onto the dance floor and if a ceremony is about to take place and the announcer asks that no photographs be taken, lay your camera down and don’t touch it until the ceremony has ended. These are Native American events and they set the rules. We are only visitors.

photographing dancer regalia at a powwow

A 70mm-200mm zoom lens allows you to capture details of dance regalia.

Powows can be held anywhere, even a high school football field. If you want a clean background, without goal posts, get there early and stake out your spot. I try to get right on the edge of the dance arena and sit on the ground or at the top of the grandstands, if they are available.

A high or low shooting angle pretty well eliminates backgrounds and these locations keep other people from blocking my view.

Apache Crown Dancers

Apache Crown Dancers are a fast moving photo subject.

I tend to shoot with two camera bodies, one mounted with a 70mm—200mm zoom lens and the other a fixed 300mm lens. Sometimes dancers are close, but often I need to reach out and isolate a single dancer. These two lenses will handle most dance floor situations. I also carry a 24mm-70mm zoom lens for portraits outside the dance arena.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

I shoot these lenses hand-held and rely on fast shutter speeds for tack sharp images. One of my favorite approaches, however, is using shutter drag, or a slow shutter speed, to create a degree of image blur that illustrates the shape of the dancers motion. It’s really fun.

Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

Slow shutter speed captures the motion of a Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

This technique is just a matter of stopping down the lens aperture to eliminate light and then slowing down the shutter speed to compensate for a proper exposure. You can pan with the dancers to blur the background as well, or even tilt the camera during the pan to create even more blur. These can become quite abstract, so try different shutter speeds to get just the right amount of blur, which is a very subjective decision.

I have covered quite a number of these events and occasionally found I was the only anglo face in the crowd. I have always found Native Americans to be gracious and have never been made to feel like an intruder. Follow the rules, ask permission and be open to the spirituality that is part of some of these dances. Powwows offer a glimpse into proud, ancient cultures which we get to explore with our cameras. Look and learn with an open mind and have a great time.

Enjoy the experience.


Traditional Native American dancers sidelit by the setting sun

Magic Hour Photography: Get Creative And Capture The Drama

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

Few photographers can resist shooting a beautiful sunset. Clouds build up, color starts to develop, you have a perfect ocean or lake surface for great reflections or you found some fascinating trees or buildings to silhouette against the colorful sky. It’s impossible to resist, isn’t it?

More often than not, however, at this time of day, I find myself turning my back on the sun as it goes down and watching for what it lights up instead.

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

That warm color of the low sun skimming across a landscape or buildings is pure magic. The soft, low-contrast sunlight at the end of the day is perfect for lifestyle images or dramatic portraits. It creates an ambiance to which everyone can relate. It’s the time of day we associate with relaxing and gathering with friends, enjoying a meal with others or just sipping a glass of wine. There is something truly magical about photographs created during the golden hour at the end of the day when the fleeting warm light mixes with cool-toned shadows to heighten drama and mystery in an image.

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

There is more to producing photos with impact at magic hour than just turning your back on the sun, of course.

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

If you are shooting in JPEG format, make sure you turn off Auto White Balance and set your camera white balance to Daylight or Overcast. Auto White Balance, or AWB, works great in a lot of lighting environments because it neutralizes color in an image, but it will also neutralize all that warm light at sunset. There goes all your atmosphere and saturated color. The Daylight or Overcast setting will capture the warm color balance that you typically see at sunset.

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Even better, shoot in RAW format if your camera has that feature. The RAW format ignores the camera’s white balance setting while capturing the maximum amount of image data. This extra data makes it possible to correct or change your image to a much larger degree, giving you more creative freedom than can be achieved with a smaller JPEG file.

One of my favorite techniques is using warm sunlight to side light my subjects, creating an exaggerated sense of volume and contrast. Side lighting also separates the warm, lit side of your subject with the cool, shadow side, producing a more dramatic image.

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Front lighting at magic hour produces rather flat lighting, but can be effective if the warmly lit subject is contrasted against a cool blue sky. Quarter back lighting is also effective at this time of day, especially for lifestyle and portrait photography. The soft, even lighting on the shadow side of your subject can be quite beautiful as long as the subject is not underexposed. Flair can be a bit of a problem when the sun is out in front of the lens, but flair can also create a strong ambience if it is controlled properly.

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit at Magic Hour

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit with sunset light at Magic Hour

Next time you are out shooting late in the day, break the sunset habit and turn your back on the sun. You may be surprised by the images you can create using sunset light, rather than photographing the actual sunset. It’s a magic time, after all.


Aerial drone photograph of North Lake

Aerial Drone Photography: Capturing The View From Above

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

All the world seems to have gone drone crazy, and for a very good reason. The camera viewpoint is totally unique and gives you access to locations you can’t reach by foot. They can fly lower than a helicopter, are not as disruptive and they cost little to shoot.

Is photography with a drone the same as shooting with a DSLR? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s talk about safety. Essentially you are flying a four-bladed weed whacker. That needs to remain in the front of your mind at all times. Drones can, and do, fall out of the sky unexpectedly for a whole variety of reasons. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8_9F6J7qw8 for a fairly complete lists of safety procedures. Ignore her voice. It’s pretty annoying.

Aerial drone photography of foggy sunrise

Aerial drone photography of foggy sunrise in the Santa Ynez Valley. Camera altitude 105 feet.

Creating aerial photographs with a drone is similar to shooting with a DSLR, but you must pre-visualize the image from different heights, and that adds a whole new layer of complexity to the process. 400 feet is the maximum legal altitude for a drone and you’ll find the world looks quite different from that vantage point. Although the monitor on your controller displays what the camera is seeing, these are usually small screens and some times difficult to view in sunlight.

Time of day, light direction and composition all interact the way they do during a ground-based photo shoot, but you add the variable of camera height, which changes everything. Over time, I have found that my images fall into three altitude brackets. Sky High spans 300-400 feet, Way Up covers 100-300 feet and Tall Photographer falls between 30-100 feet.

Aerial drone photography of wildflower super bloom near Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain

Aerial drone photography of wildflower super bloom near Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain. Camera altitude 60 feet.

The Tall Photographer altitude is the most intimate, and my personal favorite, while Sky High often produces unexpected results.

The scale of your subjects will also have a big impact on this altitude decision. Most drone cameras can’t be pointed above the horizontal position, making altitude critical when shooting in the mountains or in cities. Capturing the tops of mountains or skyscrapers turns out to be a matter of distance from the subject. If you are working too close, 400 feet of altitude doesn’t really make much difference and you may have to go topples.

Aerial drone photography of Soda Lake watershed in Carrizo Plain

Aerial drone photography of Soda Lake watershed in Carrizo Plain. Camera altitude 300 feet.

The shooting angle also impacts the composition. Again, flatter angles tend to show us what we expect to see while a steeper or more vertical angle tends to capture patterns that were not so apparent at ground level.

This is one of the exciting aspects of aerial photography, creating images that are impossible from the ground.

Light direction works pretty much the same way it does at ground level, with the exception of backlighting. Most entry level and mid-range drone cameras are built with a wide-angle lens. There is no lens shade, which might cause flight issues, so lens flair is a constant issue when shooting any kind of back lit situation. If the sun is high in the sky, dropping the camera angle can sometimes eliminate this problem, but that isn’t always an option.

Aerial drone photograph with flair

Aerial drone photograph with flair. Camera altitude 120 feet.

It took a while, but I have learned to embrace flair.

For a professional photographer, that’s a soul-searing adjustment, but I have found that some of my favorite drone images have rays of sunlight poking in from the edges. Too much flair can still ruin an image, but just the right amount can actually improve it.

 

This just scratches the surface of drone photography and in future posts we will discuss drone technology in greater depth, the care and maintenance of a drone, safety issues and flight rules and, of course, more photo tips and techniques.

Give yourself a few months to get comfortable flying your drone safely, especially in windy conditions. Try to pre-visualize what your subject will look like from several different altitudes and above all, enjoy the view but don’t abuse the freedom a drone provides. Have fun and fly safely.

 

All images in this post were produced with either a DJI Phantom 4 drone or a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. To view more images, drop by my portfolio site at https://www.chuckplacephotography.com/Still-Portfolios/Aerials/thumbs and sign up to see new work on my Instagram feed at https://www.instagram.com/chuckplace/.

 


Pizzas with hand for prop

Delicious Food Photography: The Basics Of Cooking Up Mouth Watering Images

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

My introduction to food photography was basically an accident.

I was shooting an article on Monterey, California, known for Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and great seafood. Dungeness crab is at the top of the areas epicurean list and I had already photographed a display of crabs on ice out on the pier. Although the shot was interesting, there was nothing appetizing about it. I was going to have to bite the bullet and go into a restaurant and photograph a crab dish properly.

Dungeness crab, Monterey, California

Dungeness crab photographed using window light.

Getting permission to shoot in a restaurant turned out to be easier than I thought. All I had to do was show up after the lunch crowd had thinned out, explain why I was shooting my lunch and confirm that I expected to pay for my meal. To seal the deal, I offered to send the restaurant a JPEG of the finished image for use on their web site or social media.

As I was deciding which table to use, a plate bearing an entire Dungeness crab was being set in front of a diner. The crab’s shell had been broken into many pieces, looking as if it had been run over by a truck. I was pretty certain a shot of roadkill on a plate wasn’t going to work, so I had my crab served whole without cracking. This was Food Lesson #1. Sometimes the presentation has to be modified so that the food looks good in a photographic image.

Crispy pork belly with simple staging

Crispy pork belly with simple staging

Rain had been falling the entire day and the restaurant was rather dark, so I picked a table close to a large window. As soon as food began to arrive, I quickly realized this was Food Lesson #2. Placing my subject near a large window, with no direct sunlight passing through it, gave me beautiful diffused light and large highlights on my food, making everything look quite luscious. If you want food to look tasty, make sure it has large highlights.

Now for the hard part!

Seafood fettuccine with food props

Seafood fettuccine with food props

An unadorned Dungeness crab sitting lonely on a plate wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to think of this as a still life and pick out props for my set. This is called food styling, one of the most difficult parts of food photography. In a restaurant there are few props with which to work—silverware and napkins, maybe a salt and pepper shaker, possibly a flower in a small vase. Props, I learned from Food Lesson #3, are often side dishes and drinks. Ideally, the side dishes should make sense within the context of the main dish and work with it visibly as well. In this case, the shape of the bowl of bread dipping oil and the roast tomato soup mimicked the circular shape of the crab and its plate. A glass of chardonnay, appropriate for seafood, rounded out the set.

Food Lesson #4 came later in my office while processing these images. Diffused window light is always a bit blue. Using the White Balance Selector tool in Lightroom, I clicked on the white plate to neutralize it and then added a little warmth with the Temperature Slider. Most food looks more appetizing if balanced slightly warm.

Dessert platter with flower styling

Dessert platter with flower styling

These days I photograph quite a range of dishes, chefs and restaurants. Often, when I finish, I am asked if I would like to try any of the dishes I have photographed. I always start with dessert—Food Lesson #5.

As evidenced by all the meals people post on-line, photographing food has become quite popular. There seems to be no downside to sharing photos of something you can then eat. Just be sure to work quickly before your food gets cold. And, of course, don’t forget Food Lesson #5!

 

Also Take A Look at “Create Stunning Aerial Photographs Of A Delicious Lunch