Jim Doty - Photo Blog

Photography: Photos, News, and Tips
Thursday, March 23, 2006


Angela at Sunset. Photo copyright Jim Doty Jr.

Angela in Tall Grass at Sunset. Photo © Jim Doty, Jr.

I checked my email inbox and read "I will do my first beach session today and I am panicking...any advice?" Here's the email. . .

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In order to calm down I came online and searched about the Canon 20D and white sand. I was led straight to you. I have a light meter if you think it will help. Jim what exact settings would you use in this event? I will shoot one hour before sundown, and the sand is pure white as snow. My subjects are 3 small children hopefully dressed in white and khaki.

I pray that you will email me before I leave at noon with some comforting advice. Oh I use a 580 speedlite as well that will be bracketed on my camera. My problem is I want to compose the shot and lose sight of all those settings of aperture, shutter speed ISO, metering, white balance etc… If I could just be prepared when I get there that will be 80 percent of the battle.

Your web-site has been a blessing, you speak a language I actually understand.


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I checked my watch and had about 10 minutes to send a response and meet her noon deadline. With a little more lead time, I would have provided more detailed answers and suggested she pick up a light amber gel for her flash to match the color temperature at sunset. Given ten minutes, this is what I came up with:

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Print this and take it with you!

Put the camera on manual mode. If the children have light caucasian skin, get in close and meter the sunlit side of the face of one of the children and add about one stop of light. If the camera meter says 1/125 at f11, set the camera for 1/125 at f/8. If that makes their skin too light, add 2/3 of a stop over the meter reading.

If you do this right, their skin will look normal and the beach will look white. Don't let the white sand fool the meter. That's why you get close and meter a face.

With children I would want a shutter speed of at least 1/60 second and 1/125 would be better. I would also want an aperture of f/5.6 or better yet f/8 for enough depth of field. You may need to increase the ISO from 100 to ISO 400 or ISO 800 to get a fast enough shutter and enough depth of field.

Use the flash to fill in shadows, not as the main light source or you will lose the wonderful warmth of the sunset light.

Push the flash compensation button on the camera (top deck right) and spin the thumb wheel (camera back) to set the flash for minus 2/3 to minus 1 stop of light. Take a couple of test shots to see how things look.

Take lots of pictures and bracket around your primary exposure if need be.

Above all else - HAVE FUN!

If you have fun, everyone else will be more at ease.

Let me know how things work out.

Good Luck!


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I sent the email at 11:52 AM. I hope she got it in time.

The photo at the top of this post was taken in a grassy meadow with dark, shaded trees in the background. The exposure challenge is the same as a subject with a white background: Don't allow the background to influence the camera meter. The solution in both cases is the same, set the camera meter in manual mode and move in close enough to meter just the face.

For light skin, add a stop of light to what the camera meter tells you. For medium-toned skin, shoot at the meter setting. For dark skin, subtract one half stop from what the camera meter tells you. You can learn more in my exposure article.

UPDATE: March 25, 2006

I received the following email from Debbie.

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Thanks a million! I took the note with me and tried what you said and got some beautiful shots! I will send you some when I get the time, its real busy for me right now. Mostly thanks for reminding me to have fun! I did that too and so did the clients. Your email was very encouraging and I was amazed you caught me before I left. I thank God for you and have told all my close peeps about my special email experience. Once again thanks a million!



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