How Light Is Used To Create Images – II

How Light Is Used To Create Images – II

by William Lulow

In the last article, we talked about MODIFYING light in order to create images. Today, we’ll talk about the various types of light modifying tools we can use. Since the simple reflector is limited in its ability to provide the kind of light necessary for good, commercial portraits and product shots, it needed to be changed. Over the years, photographers found that they still needed to direct light toward their subjects, but that light was much more usable if it was soft. So, they tried to figure out what could make the light soft. And, they discovered that a large light placed fairly close to their subjects would give a very pleasing effect. Manufacturers of photographic lighting equipment began making very large reflectors that were able to take large bulbs. Today, these kinds of light fixtures are sometimes referred to as “beauty dishes.”


They are large, very broad reflectors that are also fairly shallow. (The one pictured above is only 22” in diameter. But some were quite a bit larger.) They were of the theatrical variety in that they often took a fair amount of electricity to run and became very hot to handle. But, the science of these lights, in terms of the effect they had on the light they produced, made for nice, soft light that could be used to create great portraits. THE LARGER THE LIGHT SOURCE, THE SOFTER THE LIGHTING EFFECT.  This is one of the main ideas for portrait photographers. They need large light sources in order to provide the kind of illumination required for commercial portraits.  Photographers began to use these large lights in their studios to get that special, soft light they wanted. As a matter of fact, Francesco Scavullo, the famous Vogue Magazine photographer in the 1970s and 1980s, actually modified a very large theatrical Klieg light. He took out the bulb, replaced it with a specially made series of flash tubes, and put a double thickness of white plexiglass in front. It became known as his special light. A friend of mine, who used to assist for Scavullo, said it was about three feet in diameter. At any rate, because they were so hard to handle, people began looking for ways to get the effects they wanted more easily.  As manufacturing practices improved, they found that this effect could be obtained with a large umbrella with a reflective material inside it. Light from a bulb had to travel to the umbrella, bounce off it and then travel the remaining distance to the subject. This served very nicely to soften the effect of the light. One of the problems with this application of light is that it tended to lessen the light’s brightness and therefore, called for longer exposures, something that often made portraiture difficult. (Remember: photographers in the 1940s and 1950s often used large view cameras with very slow lenses. They needed a great light output to be able to make portraits at f/11 or f/16 – something we do routinely today.)  As soon as electronic flash units began to be manufactured, photographers found that they did indeed, produce enough light for short exposure times as well as smaller f/stops.

7foot umbrella

This photographic umbrella has a diameter of roughly six feet! It also has a black backing which prevents light from escaping through the material which would greatly lessen its effect. The one I use is about five feet in diameter and has about twice the number of ribs that normal umbrellas do. This is because the more ribs there are, the rounder the umbrella appears. This creates a beautiful “catchlight” in the subject’s eyes as well as giving the light an overall broader effect. Here is a picture of my umbrella in use:


You can see how large it is, relative to me and the camera.

Shooting products present slightly different problems for photographers in that you may have to deal with reflections and other highlights from shiny surfaces. And, many products have various shapes. But, the same principle of having a large light source as a mainlight still applies. It’s just that if you’re shooting a product like a bottle, for example, you may not want to have the reflection of an umbrella. So, photographers decided to make a box that was large and rectangular in shape so that the reflection would be more in line with the product. Hence, they invented the SOFTBOX!

6-foot softbox

Softboxes are great for product shots and other still life images because the light from them is even and the highlights produced are rectangular rather than round. Here is an example:


If you look at the highlights in this shot of three bulbs, you’ll notice that they are long and take the shape of the bulbs themselves. An umbrella light for this shot would have been a wrong choice because it would have produced a round highlight and not shown off the bulbs as well.

A softbox is different from an umbrella in that the light it produces is direct light (even though it is softened by the translucent front), whereas the umbrella is a “bounced” light and produces its soft effect by its size and the distance the light has to travel to get to the subject.

So, the take away from this article is that if you’re going to do commercial portraits, you will need a large, round light source as your main light. If you’re going to do product shots, you’ll need a large, rectangular light source. Remember again: THE LARGER THE LIGHT SOURCE IN COMPARISON TO THE SUBJECT, THE SOFTER THE LIGHTING EFFECT!

The next article will deal with modern uses of other light modifiers. Stay tuned!

How Light Is Used To Create Images

How Light Is Used To Create Images

by William Lulow

Note: About every six months or so, I like to republish this series of articles about what it takes to create a particular type of image and why we use the kinds of equipment we do to control light. I consider it very important to the study of photography.

I thought I’d revisit a topic that is really basic to anyone wanting to learn how to express themselves in photography. This is also a beginning article about artificial light and its application. Other articles will follow from time to time.

Light is the most important tool the photographer has. The camera is probably the least important. Lenses however, are right up there in importance. If you use a cheap lens on a good camera, your images will suffer. If you use a great lens on any camera, your images will be great. But, light is really the determining factor in how effectively your image communicates its intended ideas.

It doesn’t matter from what source the light comes. What really matters is how you control it. Light can be controlled in many ways. It can be generated by an electronic flash unit. It can be from an ordinary light bulb. Or, it can be natural light from the sun. The important thing is that you need to learn to control it for your purposes.

How is light controlled? If you put a light bulb in an ordinary lamp socket with no shade or reflector, it will scatter the light rays in all directions. If you want to make a portrait, for example, this won’t help you much. So, the next step is to try to DIRECT the light toward your subject. The thought process here is that you need some kind of REFLECTOR to help direct the light. The most common type of reflector is the kind you might buy at a hardware store. It comes with a clamp so that you can affix it somewhere and direct the light where you need it. This is most commonly a worklight that would illuminate a workbench or desk. Again, if you wish to make a portrait, this kind of light will be harsh, create a lot of shadows and will be fairly weak in terms of the actual light it puts out. You can buy a PHOTOFLOOD bulb, which will be stronger, but for this you will need a larger reflector and perhaps some pot holders because it will get fairly hot.

To summarize, your first efforts at controlling light will involve some kind of LIGHT MODIFIER,  either to direct the light where you want it, or to change it in some way.

Every type of lighting you will use in a studio setting or outdoors will involve some type of modification. It can be a sophisticated light bank or a simple reflector. Once you think of light in this way, you are on your way to understanding how to work with light to make images.

12inchLight Reflector Photo Studio Reflector 50 degree Scoop Light Studio Light Kit Studio Light Kit_2

Here are some lights and light modifiers. There are reflectors, large and small, umbrellas, light stands and perhaps a boom to allow the light to reach exactly where you want it. There are also softboxes of various types. Again, if you are serious about learning to use light, some or all of the equipment pictured above will be necessary.

If you are intending to pursue your interest in photography to the point where you are thinking about light and how to use it to create the images you want, then you will need to develop a proficiency with the tools of lighting: bulbs, reflectors, portable as well as studio flash units.

Another reason to understand how artificial light works to create images is so you can recognize and appreciate special light as it occurs in nature. Sunsets/sunrises, reflections, backlight situations are all important to understand. The study of light in general should be a prerequisite for any course of study in photography. Don’t forget a PHOTOGRAPH is literally a LIGHT PICTURE! Learn how light affects almost everything in our universe.

Learning Photography – Chapter II

Learning Photography – Chapter II

by William Lulow

A few blog articles ago, I was talking about what a “DIY” world it has become and how everyone with an iPhone is now a photographer. I also spoke about a decline in interest, in some places, for good formal, photography education. Well, a little more than a week ago, I attended OPTIC 2017, hosted by B&H Photo here in New York and sponsored by a whole host of companies anxious to push their own photo gear. One of my main reasons for attending was to ask some of the other attendees why they were there. I did get to ask a number of people and their responses were mostly along the lines of listening to various speakers’ experiences photographing natural subjects outdoors. (This was a conference aimed at outdoor photographers). I was somewhat surprised by the turnout for this event. Here, the line was already around the corner one-half hour before the doors opened on a Sunday morning:

Several of the presenters I listened to basically told of the times they photographed for National Geographic or were part of a photographic exploration trip like those offered by Linblad Photo Safaris (which was also a sponsor). There was very little in the way of actual instruction, and technical information was really not on the agenda.

My take-away from this conference, for the brief time I was there (it did go on for three days), was the following:

  1. There is still quite a bit of interest in photography and photographic instruction out there. People often turn to ways to express themselves when in doubt about other things in their lives. Just look at all the “independent photography professionals” there are nowadays on Linked In alone!
  2. People are interested in gaining ACCESS to things they want to photograph. If your passion is shooting nature, then photo safaris could be the way to go. Specialty cruises and trips to see nature’s wonders are the way to get you there.
  3. Technical information is readily available these days from many sources – some free, some rather expensive. So, depending on your means, you can choose from a variety of different workshops, classes and on-line offerings.

For years, (I believe since around 1982 or so), there has been a conference called “Photo Expo” held each year at the Javits Center in New York around the end of October. In the beginning, there were many booths and lectures set up to teach various aspects of the digital process which was new at the time. I remember sitting at the Adobe booth for days on end, listening to each presenter and then going back to the studio and practicing what I learned. Thus, I taught myself how to use a good deal of their PHOTOSHOP program.

After 30 years of attending that conference, I have to say that with Adobe having closed up it’s convention shop and a few other companies also having done the same, the interest in Photo Expo I think has waned somewhat. So, now there have been a series of smaller conferences, like OPTIC 2017 that have sprung up, that can cater to a more select audience.  Canon ran one a couple of years ago called CANON EXPO 2015, which contained a series of very well-run talks from which I was able to learn quite a bit.

So, there is still an enormous interest in learning photography and how to better one’s photographic efforts. But, classes, conferences and workshops have to be aimed at imparting information that people don’t already have and that they can’t seem to get for free on-line. Sometimes these classes can be inspirational in nature (as this one was). Other times they can be wholly technical like those aimed at beginners. My suspicion is that a lot of technical information packed into a short time span is not easy to digest for most people. If you are a beginner and you want to learn about how your digital camera works as a creative tool, (complete with information about lens apertures and shutter speeds) it would probably be best to look for classes at accredited schools that teach by the semester (16 weeks or so), with well-taught lessons and regular homework assignments, or an appropriate workshop that was built around a similar schedule.

As I have mentioned previously, I offer two such courses: one in beginning photography and the other in studio lighting for portraiture. If you are interested, send me an email and I will be glad to discuss them with you.

Let’s hope people’s interest in learning the various aspects and skills of this great art form continue unabated!

The Not-So-New Landscape In The Photography Business – Revisited

The Not-So-New Landscape In The Photography Business – Revisited


William Lulow

An interesting conversation with a former client revealed that they’ve taken their needs for photographs in-house. Hiring an intern (actually a high school photo major) to handle their imaging requirements, they have set up their own studio, bought some lighting and background equipment and no longer need to use any outside professional photographers. Whatever their photographic needs these days, they can accomplish them far easier and cheaper this way without “outsourcing” any work. Since the “photographer” works for the company (not even full-time), they can direct any shoots they may have right there in the office. They don’t need anyone to direct the shoot (no outside or inside art director). Whenever they have a product to shoot, they simply give it to the intern and the owner of the agency can do the direction himself. Nobody from the company has to travel to a photographer’s studio. No one in the company even needs to draw up a layout. They just need to tell the intern what they want and use their own equipment to accomplish the task. Also, the intern, whatever she is being paid, does the work as “work for hire.” No copyrights to worry about, no ownership issues. Sounds like a great solution for the business owner, right?

Digital cameras and Photoshop will do the rest. Because nothing special is needed beyond a white background, anyone with some elementary photographic knowledge and a good digital camera can accomplish the task. It’s become a “DIY” world.

And, just like that, the expertise needed to create outstanding images for advertising or public relations has been rendered somewhat obsolete. When desktop publishing programs like Adobe IN-Design or QuarkxPress came along, many printing and type-setting houses were rendered obsolete as well. Nowadays, anyone can make stationery or brochures in-house. Similarly, anyone can take pictures. Why do we even need professional photographers? The climate of “good enough” is here. This is not to say that excellent images are a thing of the past, but when an image is needed to document a person or product, it doesn’t always have to be the best possible one.

So, photographers who take pictures for a living, need to find ways to separate their work from the more mundane efforts used by these advanced amateurs. How do we do this? Well, one way is to come up with techniques that make our images “special” and a cut above what the “DIY” photographers can come up with. There is no substitute for experience and really high quality. And there never will be! We just need to find other markets and other clients who are willing to pay our prices for the quality of work we provide. When we do this, we naturally narrow down our client base, but we are not necessarily cutting ourselves out of the market completely. If you can come up with images that elicit the response “How did she do that?” or “How did he get that shot?”, then you are approaching the ability to set your self apart from the others out there who can just do a shot that’s “good enough” for whatever purpose is desired. A photographer I once met had some really beautiful landscapes of some of the national parks in the West. He told me that he would go out for sometimes two weeks at a time and just pick a really beautiful place and sit there until the light was just right. Then he would get a shot that the average tourist couldn’t possibly come up with. He was willing and able to put in the time it takes to get a truly breath-taking image. And, he was selling them for pretty good prices! Ansel Adams used to travel the West in his International Harvester truck, outfitted with a platform on the top. He would find an ideal spot to make an image and then he would camp out there, most times overnight, set an alarm, get up in the middle of the night to get just the right shot of a landscape with a moon rising over it. These are the kinds of things photographers can do to get those really spectacular images.

I’m not just complaining here. The conclusion that I draw from all of this is that in order to set ourselves apart from those who merely click the shutter with the camera set to “AUTO” these days, is to take more time and effort to make the images that are more breath-taking. The truly serious photographers should continue to pursue this as a goal.


Here is my portrait of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It’s certainly not your average shot of the famous statue. An average photographer with an amateur set of photographic skills (even with today’s modern digital cameras) could not possibly have made this shot. First of all, it was made from a helicopter with a 4×5 view camera mounted on a gyroscope which was, in turn, mounted to a yoke on the helicopter’s window. This image was not made with a telephoto lens. It was made with a normal (150mm) lens on my view camera. I don’t think the NYPD will let anyone get this close to the statue these days, especially after 9/11, but I think you’d agree that it is a striking image.

These are the kinds of shots we need to make today to compete with all the other run-of-the-mill “photographers” out there. We need to spend the time and effort  to come up with truly sensational shots.

How I Produce Good, Commercial Head Shots!

How I Produce Good, Commercial Head Shots!

by William Lulow

In keeping with my last blog post concerning professional headshots, I thought I’d republish an article I wrote back in January.

It seems that many people would love to shoot “head shots” these days. But what’s the difference between a head shot and a portrait? Aren’t they pretty much the same thing? You are just shooting the person’s head-and-shoulders, right?

Well, not exactly! As I have explained before, head shots have a certain purpose! They should show the person off in the best possible light! (pun intended). Head shots should be designed to “sell” the person to whatever audience he or she wants. Therefore, they need to show the person’s face. The lighting has to provide full light to the face.  If it’s for an actor, the head shot also needs to look like the person actually looks! Otherwise, the casting director will not waste her time. So, this type of head shot needs to be updated regularly. But, an actor’s head shot should also attempt to say something about her in addition to showing off her photogenic qualities. The right expression or attitude is important here. But the lighting should be generally “high key” (informational and bright – not moody or dark). It should also include some hair and makeup treatment!

If the head shot is for a publication or even social media, it should be more like a portrait in that it should attempt to elicit a response from the viewer such as: “I’d like to find out more about this person,” or “I’d like to read his book!” This head shot can have much more “mood” to it. Here’s my portrait of Ira Levin, the author of “Rosemary’s Baby,” made for Random House:

This portrait is in keeping with the overall, macabre, tones of Mr. Levin’s work in general and it was very successful! It is not necessarily a good “head shot” because it doesn’t really show the person’s full face. And, there is probably too much shadow to give a good representation of the face. But it conveys a certain sense of who Mr. Levin was.

Here’s more of a lighter, but serious, head shot for the social media and/or press releases. It shows the individual as an interesting/interested person and highlights some of his photogenic features:

There are some shadows, but the picture is still informational in nature.

When I do a head shot, I first try to get a sense of the person’s facial features and how they show up with my lighting. I begin with a standard setup of mainlight, fill-in and one or two accent lights. Then, once the person begins the sitting, I look for various effects based on the person’s “look.” I am particularly concerned with how the light shows the person’s face. Once I find what I consider a good “lighting,” I then try to concentrate on making the whole image consistent with the look that the subject and I have created. In both portraits and head shots, I always try to involve the person as much as possible. If it’s a head shot, the subject needs to be happy with the results. If it’s a portrait, the ultimate judge of the success of the image may not always be the subject. In the case of a publishing company, the art director or editor is usually the final judge of the picture, so she is the one who needs to be happy with the image.

This is my normal beginning arrangement:

I finally decided to delete the low fill-in light and to move my main umbrella more to the middle. It produced this final shot:

This is a head shot with some interesting elements to it. First, the face is totally lit, but it also has two accent lights which add a bit of “pop” to it. Kodak used to say, in its portrait manuals, that hands really shouldn’t be in the picture, but I have found it useful to include them at times. It kind of serves as a prop in this picture. Second, the expression is serious, but has a certain “something” in the eyes that conveys confidence and stability.





Why Should You “Invest” In Professional Headshots?

Why Should You “Invest” In Professional Headshots?

by William Lulow

For starters, why are you even thinking of professional headshots? You must be thinking that headshots done by a professional photographer have to be better than a selfie made with your iPhone or even a shot done by a friend who “knows” how to use his camera. If you are, you’d be right! It should go without saying that a professional photographer with a studio knows how to deliver a better result than you could do yourself.

The next thing you should be asking yourself is “what do I need a headshot for?” If it is for a resume, job interview, website, brochure or book jacket, then you’re talking about a “professional use.” Why on earth would you even consider taking a “selfie” for such an important use?

The problem is, these days, the taking of many photographs has been reduced to a camera set on “AUTO.” Furthermore, many people still have that “good enough” mentality, meaning that it’s just a headshot. It doesn’t have to be all that great or complicated or expensive! WRONG!

If you intend on promoting yourself in any way, for any use, you deserve to have a headshot that you’d be proud to display, not make excuses for! When I talk about “investment,” it is exactly that. It takes time and a great deal of effort to get just the right looking headshot. These days, good headshots cost $350 and up. I’ve mentioned many times that when I do a headshot, I often shoot more than 100 frames in order to get just the right combination of lighting, pose and expression that begins to say something about my subjects and how I see them. Then I crop and retouch them myself to get just the right look.  There is a kind of interview that takes place between me and my subject during which I try to find out just enough about him or her to bring out an expression that makes the image kind of “jump” off the page. My intent is to get the viewers of the image to want to get to know my subjects as well.

It seems to me that almost ANY price would be worth the time and effort that I normally devote to this task. But, the market, being what it is, there might just be a limit to what people are willing to pay, even for their own success!

With this in mind, well-known hair & makeup artist Jill Harth and I have teamed up to bring you an irresistible offer:

Even in today’s market, this is a fabulous deal! One that you hopefully won’t pass up. Get in touch with either one of us for more information. All the contact information is listed above.

Outdoor Portraits

Outdoor Portraits

by William Lulow

One of the important techniques to making good portraits outdoors entails balancing the ambient light with fill-in light from portable flash units. When there is direct sunlight, I like to have my subjects with the sun behind them (which makes it act as an accent light) and then to fill-in faces with light from my flash. If there is no direct sunlight, I will sometimes create highlights with several flash units. The thing to remember is that, believe it or not, the light from a flash unit is actually brighter than the sun, (for the purpose of making a photograph), because it is much closer to the subject.

I did this the other day for a family portrait:

Here you can see the effect of two lights placed on either side of the group and another at the camera position to fill-in the faces. Here’s what part of the set-up looked like:

Here you can see the placement of one of my accent lights. The other was on the other side of the “set.” I chose this background to show a bit of the house and to provide some different levels for the subjects.

Here is an image made with the sun acting as an accent light and a single flash as a fill-in:

I normally begin with taking a reading with my light meter of the ambient light and then I keep my fill-in light usually one-half to one f/stop darker in order not to overpower the daylight. My accent lights are used “raw” and are therefore usually one f/stop brighter than the ambient light so that they will register as white highlights on the subjects.

Here is another example:

You can readily see the effects of the accent lights and how they add a sparkle to the image.

Learning Photography

Learning Photography

by William Lulow

As followers of this blog will attest, I am, and for quite a while have been, involved with teaching photography either in accredited schools or through my workshops and this blog. I had an interesting conversation recently with the director of an art school who was basically saying that interest in photography instruction has fallen off dramatically in the last few years! She attributed this in large part to the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) world we live in today. Why, she asks, would someone pay to take a course offered through her school when they can get the same information often for free online and without having to leave their own home? (Some courses do charge fees, but information can readily be had at no cost if you know where to look).

Indeed, there is one website I have looked at called “Creative Live” which offers quite a few very well produced videos on a number of studio lighting setups as well as information about how best to use your camera! 

This is all well and good, but videos and manuals don’t really take the place of good, personal instruction by a live teacher.  The problem is that many people don’t want to get up off their rear ends and journey the distance to a school or workshop. 

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in a recent article, referred to the fact that even though computers can “think ” they have no “heart and soul.” They don’t know when students are not getting a particular concept and they certainly can’t hope to figure out why! That’s one of the reasons we need live teachers! There are some things and techniques that simply have no place in a “do-it-yourself” environment. 

If your goal is to become a better photographer, to understand the concepts of the art/science and perhaps even set yourself up in business as a “professional,” personal instruction is the best way to do this! 

In addition, the DIY world cannot teach you the “whys” of what you’re doing. Oh, it can demonstrate “how” to do something very well but it can’t teach you why you would do it a certain way. Also, if you’re looking at a “how to” video, you really need to look very closely at what’s being presented. I have often found myself looking at these videos and wishing I could see “behind the scene” as well as what’s in front of the camera. Obviously, the person making the video has decided what and how much will be shown. So you really have no opportunity to see everything you might want to see. In a live class, not only can you see everything both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, but you can see for yourself how much space is used and what the instructor and the model’s reaction is.

As I have said before, I’m a trained teacher and I know there is really no substitute for “hands on” learning – something you just cannot get from a computer or a video! Yes, you can always “try it yourself,” but you then have to refer back to the video and that constant checking and re-checking can impede the flow of learning.

So, if learning how to be a better photographer is your goal, try to make the effort to attend a class or series of classes in person. Try to choose a class that’s more than a one time shot! Try to select an instructor who gives objective homework assignments that force you to learn the lessons and then checks to see if you’ve done them correctly. Photographs can be, by their very nature, subjective works of art that some may or may not like. Successful instruction begins with demonstrating a technique and then checking to see if it has been mastered! That’s not subjective. You either got it or you didn’t.  That’s really the best way to learn!

Knowing What Art Directors Want!

Knowing What Art Directors Want!

by William Lulow

Shooting images for any publication requires the photographer to do some homework involving a knowledge of what art directors are looking for in images that illustrate their articles. In order to know what an art director wants in a photograph, one must know what art directors do and how they do it. An art director is responsible for assembling the artwork needed to illustrate the many articles that a magazine or newspaper (or other publication) publishes. The Creative Director is an art director who is responsible for the entire “look” of the publication from images and typography, to layout and overall design. An art director with whom you might work as a photographer, may just be responsible for all photography in the publication. Or, she may be responsible for certain types of articles. Typically, in larger publications, AD jobs are relegated to a staff of art directors, each with her own, particular niche. In smaller publications, there may be only one AD responsible for all the illustration content.

At any rate, as a photographer, you are responsible to the person who hires you and this is the person you must please if you are thinking of doing more than one job for her. The first thing I always do is to make sure I am thoroughly familiar with the entire publication. That means all the columns, all the features and the way the magazine or paper looks. Sometimes an AD will say “Go and shoot so-and-so for this article we’re doing.” If I don’t know the AD, I will start by asking to see what is called a “galley” of the piece they are doing. I want to read the article so that I know what the writer or reporter is talking about. My job is to help illustrate the article with interesting images that will help readers get a better idea of who is in the article and what it is they do. If there is no galley (sometimes articles haven’t actually been written yet), I will make sure that I am, as I said, familiar with other articles the magazine has done so that I can see just how other images have been used in the past. I also know from experience, that art directors want to be able to see an entire image. They don’t want images that have been cropped or otherwise “doctored” by photographers. They want to do all that. So, I strive to give them full shots that they can crop as they wisht. You also never know how the AD will use your photos. Sometimes they might be square. Sometimes long rectangles to be used in spaces that need special treatment. Sometimes an image might be used as a header for an article. Sometimes it might be used as a “double truck” (which is an image that spans both pages in a magazine). Such an image will probably need room in it for the AD to lay type over the photo or drop type out of it. So, compositions need to be provided that will enable the AD to use the picture however he or she sees fit.

Here are some samples from magazines and articles on which I have worked:


This image has plenty of white space as well as plenty of black space into which the AD put his copy. Cover shots especially, have to have all these elements. Here’s an interior image:


Here the AD used a combination of header image with copy laid over it and plain copy used underneath it. Here’s yet another use:


This image was used as an insert with the copy running around it as well as some copy dropped out of it.

The point is that photographers need to know what art directors want. They need to know the publications for which they are shooting and all the possible ways that their images might be used. I also like to provide my art directors with enough images from which to choose. In this business, having too many images is not necessarily a bad thing unless they are repetitive. They must be different enough that the art director can choose between a few.

Sometimes, knowing what they want is something you should study carefully and sometimes, knowing what they want can be intuitive. Most images made for magazines are purposefully made. Every once in a great while they may use a “lucky” shot, but if you, as a photographer, take care to see that you are in the right place at the right time and know all the ins-and-outs of your equipment and how to use it correctly, you will, most likely come up with shots that your art directors will love.

How To Use “Back Button” Focusing

How To Use “Back Button” Focusing

by William Lulow

Well, even an “old pro” like me can learn a thing or two. I read an article in PDN last year about something called “Back Button Focusing,” and learned that you can assign a button on the back of your DSLR to use for your auto focusing tasks. Most DSLRS these days have a feature which enables the user to hold the shutter release button down half way to allow the camera’s auto focus mechanism to acquire proper focus on the subject. Then, when you actually release the shutter button all the way, the picture is taken. Re-assigning the AF task is a simple matter, but you need to consult your camera manual for how this is done with your particular camera.

With “Back Button Focusing”, you can use one of the buttons on the back of the camera to do the same thing. I have been using this technique all the time now and did so several months ago while photographing singer/songwriter Kathy Mattea in concert. I re-assigned the auto focus task to my AF button which I held down with my thumb while I pressed the shutter button with my forefinger, as always. I set up only ONE AF point in the center and while holding down the AF button on the part of the image I wanted to be sharp, I re-composed the shot and then released the shutter with my forefinger. What I found was that the whole procedure of using auto-focus seemed to go a bit faster. One certainly doesn’t have to go to this trouble if you can remember to hold the shutter release button down half way while the camera acquires the proper focus. But, I found it much easier to use both buttons.

For these images, I aimed the center AF point directly on the singer’s face to make sure that it was sharp, held the “Back Button” down and released the shutter, keeping the AF where I wanted it:




Since most of my early concert shots were done in Black&White, I always like to shoot some frames in original monochrome mode when I’m shooting concerts these days.

So, try this technique out. See if you like it and it helps you with your AF tasks. I found it to be particularly helpful with subjects that move a lot. I’ve taken to using it with my normal studio portrait shoots as well. Just seems to make things faster and easier.