The Tricky Thing About Portraits

When dear husband and I were planning our wedding, the hardest thing after finding a venue (and getting married on a budget…) was finding a good wedding photographer that we could trust. As people who take lots of photos, we definitely know what we like and don't like. Thankfully, we ended up with more photos we liked than photos we disliked.

That said, having shot weddings and events in the past, I like capturing fun moments and not being in the way (don't get me started on photographers and videographers who block the view for the entire crowd of onlookers during a ceremony). The way I like to take photos is that you shouldn't really know I'm there. But I think that’s kind of easy these days.

The real tricky part lies in taking pictures of folks not doing something special but just being. Here are a few tips I have in case you are trying to make a good picture of another human:

1. Get Lit

And by "lit" I mean pay attention to lighting. Good lighting is imperative. The last thing you want to do is have a whole lot of dark photos that you need to tweak. Unless you are trying to capture someone's dark side, in which case, carry on!

That said, good lighting doesn't have to mean expensive lighting equipment. If you find your camera's flash is too much, try to redirect that light. You can literally put a rectangle mirror under your flash while you take a picture (there's a product that does this for you called the Lightscoop). This helps diffuse the light so that flash is not so harsh. Alternatively, take your portrait on a bright but overcast day and let a cloudy sky be your big softbox in the sky.

2. Make Me Look Pretty

Everyone is beautiful in their own way and when you create a portrait, it’s about figuring out the best way to capture that. Makeup can be your friend; although, more so the kind that keeps you from getting too shiny if you tend to have oilier skin and not the kind that alters what you look like (again, unless that's what you are going for!).

Do keep in mind that even the beautiful people don't always look so great staring straight at a camera. Models are lauded more for creating angles with their bodies versus something inherent about their composition. This is when I think it’s totally ok to have some inspiration photos you like that you will try to capture. I have a Pinterest board of inspiration — whatever floats your boat.

Moreover, once you are inspired, it's important to use the right tool to facilitate the result you are after. If you have a zoom lens or interchangeable lenses, a good rule of thumb is to go higher than 50mm for individuals and go lower than 50mm for large groups of people. A lower number means a wider field of view which can distort lines and people's faces if you aren't careful; a good example of this is in the movie La La Land. As the camera at the audition pans in on Emma Stone's face, you'll notice something's a little off due to the distorting effect of the wide lens:

3. Don't Be So Basic

Every person is different and so every session will be different. What feels right for one may be terrible for another. If something you envisioned for your model doesn't work, realize that as soon as you can and move on. Don't force some photo trends just because it's in.

Similarly some photo trends need to die and you have my permission to let them die. Photo shoots on railroad tracks, for example, need to end; who decided that was safe?! And don't get me started on bad couples poses. I've seen engagement photos bordering on the obscene because of where a hand is placed during a staged kiss. When you are trying to create a portrait of a regular person, you generally want to avoid techniques that will be seen as gimmicky in the future. I generally try to avoid super stylized lighting or poses unless I'm working with an actual model who wants something unique; your average person will want to simply look their best in as many of the photos as possible.

Key takeaway: focus on presenting someone in their best light (literally) and don't be afraid to make changes and adapt in real-time if needed to improve the outcome!

Pitch of the Year: Photo Essay on Covering Major League Soccer

Endings and Beginnings

Above the Fray by Jen Gallardo
Above the Fray by Jen Gallardo

The end of 2016 was rough. Like many other women, the outcome of the November election reflected the reality of the doors that continued to feel very much closed to me. The glass ceiling with the 18 million cracks in it suddenly felt more like solid lead — and it was poisoning me.

To cope, I decided to dive head first into photography in the coming year. Making pretty pictures won't change the world, but, for me, the act of going out to shoot soothes the soul and the post production definitely helps quiet the mind.

Fleur de Lis Gate by Jen Gallardo
Fleur de Lis Gate by Jen Gallardo

I bought a bunch of new equipment to kickstart that warm and fuzzy feeling about the world taking photos again. I submitted a sample of my work to a stock photo company and was accepted as a contributor. And then, like clockwork, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to photograph some Major League Soccer games both in New York and DC. Continue reading "Pitch of the Year: Photo Essay on Covering Major League Soccer"

In Search Of a Good Camera Bag

When I was younger, I learned the hard way not to buy cheap hand bags. I bought a bunch of these (including illegitimate knockoffs sold to me in a backroom somewhere in Chinatown — which I will never again do for so many reasons!) and they would never last.

Lo & Sons The Claremont bag that I'm parting ways with
Lo & Sons "The Claremont" bag that I'm parting ways with

Now that I'm older and (so I hope) somewhat wiser, I invest in handbags that will last me a while and put up with abuse. I take the subway almost every day of the week so bags I wear can't just look pretty but they really have to function, especially under stress. A bag I carry should be able to get bumped into by a hobo and brush it off! Not only that, it should be able to fit all the junk I need in a day (wallet, digital devices, makeup, etc). Continue reading "In Search Of a Good Camera Bag"

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – A Photo Story

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, I cry in a corner wishing for a do-over of summer think about how I spent my summer and reminisce.

Much of the summer was spent in the city. As is always the case for me, I start to get tired of it and I need a change of pace to remind me why I call this gem of a city home.

First stop, San Diego.

Glittery Beach
Glittery Beach

We took on Coronado Beach which, due to the presence of mica, glitters like someone dropped a glitter bomb across the entire beach. Also notable were the donuts (and donut-like poptarts) at The Donut Bar.

Next stop, Los Angeles. Continue reading "How I Spent My Summer Vacation – A Photo Story"

The Exposure Triangle: Doing the Math to Make a Nice Picture

When I was in college (which feels like so many moons ago!), I took an Intro to Photography class. I took the class because, with the easy availability of digital cameras, I had already started taking a ton of photos but wanted to do it a little better. I didn't know what an SLR was (or what those letters even meant) and had no idea about all the different components you can manipulate to take a picture, all to different effect.

Beautiful Sunday by Jen Gallardo
Beautiful Sunday — one of my favorite photos as it makes a nice desktop background!

I think I ended up getting a film SLR (that's single-lens-reflex, by the way) camera for Christmas and using that for a while throughout the class but the exposure triangle kind of alluded me for a long time. It wasn't until I started using a digital SLR — with the abundant low cost tolerance for trial and error — that it finally clicked.

A lot of people ask me about what kind of camera to buy and use but, for most of those people, I think the question they should be asking is how they can improve the quality of their photos. Continue reading "The Exposure Triangle: Doing the Math to Make a Nice Picture"

Chihuly at New York Botanical Garden

A friend of ours suggested we visit the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx this past weekend to check out the Dale Chihuly blown glass exhibition. I happily obliged. The NYBG is one of my favorite places to go in the city. When I was "fun-employed" — that planned period of time between ending one job and starting a new one — I made a point of heading over there. I don't know if many transplants to the city visit it, but they should; it's a beautiful garden and you almost forget you are in the midst of 8 million people.

Conservatory Reflection Continue reading "Chihuly at New York Botanical Garden"

Reviewing the Leica Q

Lately, I've been into carrying smaller purses on the weekends. It forces me to think about the bare essentials and probably reduces strain on my shoulders that are accustomed to carrying a bag that can at worst accommodate a 13" work laptop or at best carry around my 9" iPad plus a number of other odds and ends (giant wallet, makeup bag, etc).

This is a big shift for me as, for a while, I was only buying bags that could fit my camera. Since my camera (Canon DSLR) takes up a lot of room, I've been seriously considering down-sizing and have rented other cameras over the last 6 months just to get an idea of what I might like to buy (or not). When Adorama Camera had their infamous Passover rental special (10 days more or less for the cost of a weekend), I decided to pick up a camera I had wanted to try the last time they had one of these sales — the Leica Q. Continue reading "Reviewing the Leica Q"

Travels In Europe

It's February which means I'm officially back in New York City (at least for now). I've always wanted to travel in January and February but husband and I historically have rarely been able to get our act together to do it. This time, I was traveling for work so everything was booked and mostly organized before 2016 was over. Of course, there's a saying about the best laid plans…in short, they don't always go as planned.

I happened to be flying to London the day of the first major snowfall of 2017 in New York City. Of course it would be a snowy day! Why wouldn't it be? Throughout the day, I kept checking on the status of my flight and it continued to say it was "on time." Meanwhile, the cost of my Uber to the airport was double the cost of a regular taxi (hello, surge pricing!) and the fact that I even took an Uber tells you a lot as I never take Uber (for personal reasons I'll discuss at another time).

To make a long story short, my flight did not depart until FOUR HOURS after its scheduled time. I think I learned my lesson about flying during peak New York snow season! However, I did get to fly Premium Economy on a Delta flight operated by Virgin Atlantic. In this class, I was greeted with a welcome sparkling wine. Delays and all, I could definitely get used to flying like this.

Pre Flight Drink
I can get used to welcome champagne and a cute little overnight bag.

Continue reading "Travels In Europe"

New Year and New Camera

Happy New Year!

Champagne I enjoyed at midnight in New Orleans (photo taken by Fuji X100T camera I rented)
Champagne I enjoyed at midnight in New Orleans (photo taken by Fuji X100T camera I rented – click on any photo to see full size version on Flickr)

After many days off from work and some fun travels, I'm now back in New York City and ready to resume my normal routines again — well, somewhat. The new year is all about resolutions but I didn't make any specific ones. Instead, I'm striving to have a majority of happy and healthy days in 2017. In keeping with that, there are a lot of things I will continue to do, or simply do more often, but I'm not aiming for some sort of dramatic change.

I think, despite what we say every January 1st, we are all creatures of habit. I'm going to focus on all my good habits like investing in my body with exercise and eating well and hobbies like reading (now with my new kindle paperwhite – thanks, Santa!), writing and taking photos.

And, speaking of photos, I took a bunch over the past week or so. I've been meaning to try out a mirrorless camera for a WHILE and I just haven't gotten around to it. I think this also ties into my being a creature of habit; I love my old Canon SLR and it, in return, has been very good to me over many many years. I'm typically pretty good with my electronics so they last a while – this camera is no different. That said, it's a little big for traveling and doesn't have any of the bells and whistles that newer cameras have.

So when Adorama (one of my favorite places for camera equipment in the city) was having a Christmas rental deal, I decided to go all out and rent a Leica Q. But that was taken because I didn't act fast enough, so I ended up with the Fuji X100T instead. In truth, I'm glad I ended up with the Fuji because it is way less expensive and therefore something I could consider buying in the future. Though, honestly, I still think I need to do a little more digging before I settle on a mirrorless camera. While the X100T is a really nice camera, there are some things about it that quickly became deal breakers for me. Continue reading "New Year and New Camera"