I write photography lessons called Making the Shot for past students of The Photographers' Workshop. They're big, detailed lessons and are designed to really help past students of mine hone in on specific photographic skills (like shooting in low light situations for example.)
And while I currently only make those issues available to past students (because Making the Shot is intended to build on the foundation of knowledge that is taught during The Photographers' Workshop) I find myself wanting to occasionally share some photography-related tips here on my blog to past students and non-students alike.
So that's exactly what I'm going to do. No particular frequency, no particular format, no particulars at all - I just want to periodically show you some strategies that have helped me photographically in the hope that they might help you as well.
Note that you can find "How I Made the Shot" posts by clicking on "How I Made the Shot" over in the left-hand column under "Categories." (As of right now, the only other post in this category is this one on Natural Reflectors.)
Shooting in Big Box Stores
Seems like whenever I post photos taken from inside big box stores like Target, Toys-R-Us, Staples, etc., I hear questions from people wondering how I manage to shoot successfully without a flash in stores with that kind of lighting and honestly, it's probably a lot easier than you think if you've got the right gear:
- A digital SLR. (I have a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon D700.)
- A prime lens (A lens that does not "zoom.") like a 50mm f1.8 or a 50mm f1.4. I recommend the Canon 50mm f1.4 or the Canon 50mm f1.8 II, depending on your budget OR the Nikon 50mm f1.4G or the Nikon 50mm f1.8G, again, depending on your budget. (Please note that these are not affiliate links, so I am not making any money off of the recommendations these lenses.)
- Your camera manual if you're not already accustomed with how to shoot in Manual Shooting Mode. (Don't let the words "Manual Shooting Mode" scare you - you can do it.) If you have lost your camera manual, you can download a PDF version for Canons here and Nikons here.
- A friend, family member or husband who is willing to shop with your kids so you can save all of your brain-power and energy for shooting. (Optional, but recommended.)
And here's what I suggest doing:
1. Before you even walk inside the store, save yourself some time and some stress and set your camera to Manual Mode (NOT Manual "FOCUS", I'm talking about Manual "SHOOTING MODE" which are two totally different things.) and then set your aperture to f2, your shutter speed to 1/200th and your ISO to 400. (From experience, this has just become my "starting point" with my settings when shooting in big box stores.) If you're unfamiliar with how to set these settings, just spend a bit of time looking up "Shooting Modes" or "Manual Mode" in your instruction manual. In general though, you should be able to adjust your aperture and your shutter speed with the dials on the body of your camera and then you can adjust your ISO from your camera's "Menu" section.
On my Nikon D700, the "M" you see in the panel above indicates that my camera is set to "Manual Shooting Mode", the "200" indicates that my Shutter Speed is set at 1/200th and the "F2" indicates that my Aperture is set at f2. Depending upon your camera, you can see this information in a side panel like the one you see on my camera above (Some cameras do not have side panels like this.) or you can find this same information by viewing the LCD panel on the back of your camera and/or by looking through your viewfinder at the very bottom of the screen. (Note that my ISO doesn't show up in the panel seen above, but I can see my ISO setting at the bottom of my viewfinder and/or on the LCD on the back of my camera.)
Anytime your camera doesn't seem to be responding when you are trying to adjust your settings, simply depress the shutter button halfway down to 'wake' the camera.
2. Once you get into the store and to the general location where you'll be doing most of your shooting, set a Custom White Balance setting. (This can seem pretty intimidating at first, but after just a little practice, you'll be able to set a Custom White Balance setting in 10 seconds or less and you'll kick yourself for not learning to do it sooner.) You'll have to look up the process for Custom White Balancing in your camera manual because the process differs significantly amongst different cameras. (In Canon manuals, look up the term "Custom White Balance" and in Nikon manuals, look up the term, "Preset White Balance." In addition to that, here's a quick video for Custom White Balancing with a Nikon and another video for Custom White Balancing with a Canon.) For all cameras though, you have to take a white balance "test" shot and to take this "test" shot in Big Box Stores, I recommend holding one of the White Balance tools previously mentioned over your lens and taking a shot (Make sure your lens cap is off.) while pointing your camera upwards, directly towards the ceiling lights in the store. Once you've got the correct White Balance set, you can just continue shooting with that same White Balance setting unless you move to a location with different colored lighting (in which case, you'd then have to create a new White Balance setting.)
You can purchase these White Balance tools in different sizes, so they can attach directly to different sized lenses, but in order to save money, I recommend purchasing a large size, like the 77mm (which will be slightly bigger than the diameter of most of your lenses) and just "holding" the White Balance tool in front of your lens while taking your test shot - that way you only have to purchase one White Balance tool.
The photo below is the color of my image BEFORE taking the time to set a Custom White Balance Setting.
And this next photo below is AFTER setting a Custom White Balance setting (Goodbye Oompa Loompas.) and this is the same White Balance setting I used the entire time I was shooting (so I only had to create a Custom White Balance setting once.) Note that the shot below has NOT been edited in any way - it's a SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) shot.
3. From there, begin shooting. If your subject's skin tone looks too dark (underexposed) when viewing your images in Playback Mode on your LCD (This just means pressing the Playback button on your camera and viewing the last shot you took on the back of your LCD screen in order to determine if you think your subject's skin looks too bright or too dark.), then you need to increase your ISO (to a higher number) enough that your subject's skin tone looks bright and vibrant when viewing your subsequent shots in Playback on your LCD. If your subject's skin tone looks too bright (overexposed) though, you'll need to decrease your ISO (to a lower number) enough that your subject's skin tone look accurate when viewing your subsequent shots in Playback on your LCD. (If you are having a tough time understanding what is considered a "correct" exposure for a subject's skin tone, really study the skin tones of my kids in all of the images posted below, while keeping in mind that "correct" exposure can vary somewhat based on your personal preferences and on what you're shooting.)
If you move into a darker part of the store, you will need to increase your ISO to a higher number in order to keep your subject's skin tone looking bright and vibrant. If you move into a lighter part of the store, you will need to decrease your ISO to a lower number in order to prevent your subject's skin tone from getting too bright.
In general though, don't touch your aperture or your shutter speed - leave those two settings at f2 and 1/200th the entire time you're shooting unless you are finding that you have to use a higher ISO number than you want to use in order to get your subject's skin tone properly exposed - in which case, you can try moving your aperture to f1.4 or f1.8, depending on the lens you have and/or you can move your shutter speed to 1/160th. Aside from that though, the ONLY setting you'll need to adjust while shooting is your ISO (to make your images lighter, use a higher ISO number and to make them darker, use a lower ISO number.) but realistically, once you have found an ISO that makes the exposure for your subject's skin tone look good, you won't have to make any further adjustments to your ISO unless you move to a location in the store where there is more or less light.
4. And while you've got your camera manual out, you might as well figure out how to change your Autofocus Points (rather than letting the camera choose them for you) because doing so will totally revolutionize your shooting (but that's a big topic, for another day.)
That's pretty much all there is to it. (Please understand that my recommendations are just 'general' recommendations and that I'm not diving into any explanations of shutter speed, aperture and/or ISO because those are HUGE topics that take several weeks to explain in my online course.)
And here's my edited shots. (Compare the unedited shot above to the edited version below to get an idea of how much editing I did.)
Thanks Josh Downs for handling all of the school supply shopping while I shot.