q and a

I already mentioned this in a recent post, but I feel I have to reiterate…for my sake more than yours. I post these question and answer segments on my blog not because I think I am a super rad photographer, but because 1) I am all about spreading the love and sharing information, and 2) let’s face it…it’s easier to answer a question once rather than several times. Sharing and learning from other people helped me so much in the beginning and continues to help me in my journey as a photographer. So, if these help even one person, I’m thrilled!

With that said, I have a lot of questions to go through and considering it is already 1 am and I am just starting, I will do as many as I can before my eyes involuntarily close on me…

M asks…When you’re shooting do you shoot from a distance and then crop in post processing?

While I am shooting, I crop in camera the way I see the image in my head.  This not only challenges me to be more creative while photographing (rather than me just shooting lazily so that I can crop creatively later), but it helps me to save time while editing as well as avoids quality loss from severe post process cropping. HOWEVER. I do leave JUST enough room to plan for those weird 8×10 or 16×20 sizes. There are some times while I am shooting that I can’t quite frame it right so I will leave a little extra room to play with it later. But, for the most part, I crop in camera.

J asks…I would love to know anything about the pics that you have a window in the back drop and the light just totally wraps your subject.

J is referring to the images such as this or this (first images in the post).  I shoot with a wide aperture (around f2.8), shutter speed around 1/200, and adjust my ISO if necessary to create a proper exposure.  The subject is facing me, so if there is not another natural light source from the front to fill in the face, I will use a reflector or speedlight (otherwise their faces would be dark and without detail amongst all of the beautiful light coming in).

J asks…For “Faris and Kristen” what lens did you use??

The images you are referring to were actually ALL shot with a Nikon 24-70 2.8 lens. I tend to use that lens the most at weddings, followed by my 70-200 2.8 and 85 1.8 lenses.

B asks…My question is how do you get into weddings? I would love to do it but I am scared to death! I would love to hear your story.

How to get into weddings. Ummmm…I wish I could tell you to follow in my direct path of knowing your camera and lighting inside out and shadowing a respected wedding photographer before you take on the job of documenting a couple’s MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THEIR LIFE. But, that was not my direct path. Although I highly recommend (actually I am firmly insisting) that path to anyone and everyone, I actually kind of FELL into it. Travis’ cousin asked me to photograph her wedding and I was TERRIFIED. Seriously. But, I agreed and adamantly told her that I had warned her that there might be a chance I could completely screw it up. I did it, I loved it, and I didn’t completely screw it up. I made mistakes and I knew it. So…I dedicated myself to learning all that I needed to know to succeed and please others in that crazy world of wedding photography.

P asks…How do you throw your background out of focus so well?

Having a blurred foreground and/or background will be determined by a combination of your aperture, focal length, and the distance between you, your subject, and the background and/or foreground. For example, even at more narrow aperture settings (ie: f5.6), the closer your subject is to you and the further they are pulled away from their background, the more blurred your background will look. And remember, it is easier to achieve that lovely bokeh at wider aperture settings…and I tend to live in the f1.4 to 2.8 range about 75% of the time.

P, P, M, and A ask…How do you get your lighting so perfect?

Although it is a far cry from perfect, I am uber flattered you all used that word to describe my lighting. Thank you! Aren’t we all trying to achieve amazing lighting? Isn’t that what makes or breaks an image? When I first started, I would plan my shots around a cool location, a great pose, or an awesome object. But, somehow, my image never turned out how I had seen it in my mind. Why? Crap lighting. I quickly learned from my mistakes and started planning EVERY. SINGLE. SHOT. around the light. I love and prefer natural light, but what if it isn’t available? I either move on to a new location or I create it artificially (using speedlights, a reflector, or an Alienbee strobe light). I am obsessed with finding good light. I even use sidewalks, white buildings, white clothing, or other random whiteness to fill in those hideous shadows. A great example is the first shot below. The white tub reflected tons-o-light into the adorable baby’s face and filled in all of those shadows. Finding or creating light comes first…everything else comes second!

When I am shooting in natural light, I am always looking for large light sources.  Indoors, I use big windows and doorways and turn my subjects either directly to them (for more of a flat light), or slightly away from them (for more of a dramatic light).   Outdoors, the sky and sun are obviously my largest light sources, so I use those to my advantage.  There are many ways to use these light sources, from facing your subjects into the sun for a hard, high fashion effect (usually good for seniors, weddings, or commercial work), backlighting them with the sun (in which I use a reflector or fill flash so I can properly expose their face without blowing my background), or using open shade.  With open shade, I think of placing my subjects “within a box” so that they are surrounded on all sides but have one light source in front of them (the sky).  For example…if you place a subject in a garage facing outside, or maybe in an alleyway facing toward the street, they are surrounded by walls, but have a large light source at the opening, which in essence, creates a huge, natural soft box and gives you amazing lighting and awesome catch lights!

P asks…How do you always have perfect lighting…do you just choose the right time of day or have certain equipment that makes it easier?

I piggybacked this question directly after the last one to emphasize that the best equipment in the world and time of day do not guarantee anybody wonderfully lit images. I shoot at all times of day (even in the dreaded noon time sun), but of course, I prefer earlier mornings or even better, evenings to get that soft, dreamy light. As far as equipment? I do use reflectors (silver and/or white) and speedlights if they are needed.

S asks…What lenses do you carry in your bag?

Mmmmmm…lenses…can’t get enough. You can see my favorites HERE.

K asks…my question is with the D700 do you shoot in manual or aperature?

Manual…100% My husband shoots 50/50 on aperture priority and manual, and is constantly trying to convince me to use aperture priority in certain situations. But. I must have control of my settings…full control…all of the time. I know what you are thinking, and I swear…I am not a control freak.

S asks…I was wondering how you get such crisp images.

The best chance of getting a tack sharp image is to use a tripod and a remote trigger. But, I am not going to lie…I only use a tripod 1 in every 200 times I pick up my camera. Ok, more like 1 in every 200,000,000 times I pick up my camera. That’s just not me…I have to be moving around everywhere. Standing…lying on the ground…up on a chair…behind a tree…back down on the ground. That’s how I roll during a shoot.

Sooooo, how can you get a sharp image without a tripod?  These are not “the rule,”  just random tips that have worked for me  1) Camera settings play a big part. Generally, when shooting in natural light, I try not to go lower on my shutter speed than 1/125 and definitely not lower than 1/250 while photographing a moving child. 2) Find good light so you don’t have to crank up your ISO and risk digital noise. 3) A good lens plays a huge role in crisp images as well.  There really IS a reason why they are so much more expensive then the rest. 4) Minimize hand held shake.  Brace your arm, brace your camera…there is nothing worse than seeing a perfect image on your lcd, only to go home and realize it is soft due to hand held shake.  5)  Post processing sharpen.  After editing an image, the last thing I do is sharpen my image using an action by Kevin Kubota.  Please note that sharpening an image will never save a soft or blurry image.

A asks…What do you do to achieve proper white balance?

Well, before I got my D700, I was often using preset white balance settings in my camera, or using a gray card or CBL lens to get a custom white balance. But, to be honest, with my D700, it rarely comes off of auto white balance. It just plain, old rocks. Only in super tricky situations do I have to pull out my CBL lens.

A asks…I have noticed you have been using more off camera flash.  Would you mind telling what off camera flash equipment you use at sessions or weddings?

Again, I love natural light and prefer to use it.  But, there are times when I have to create my own light or I want to produce a certain effect that I can’t do with natural light.  And that is where flash comes in.  Outdoors or at a wedding, I usually use a one light setup consisting of a Nikon sb900 speedlight, a Manfrotto stand, and either a Westcott umbrella or a Lastolite 24×24 softbox.  I fire the speedlights with pocket wizards, pop up flash on my camera, or another Nikon speedlight on my camera.  Sometimes we will use a two or three  light setup (more for commercial work), but that is a different story for a different day.  Indoors, usually with newborns, I will use a 50×50 Westcott softbox with an Alienbee 800 strobe light IF I can’t use natural light.

STOP IT RIGHT NOW.  I know what you are thinking…all of that is just too overwhelming and you don’t even know where to start or have the money.  If you are interested in off camera lighting, it does not have to be hard or expensive.  Get yourself a speedlight ($450), a stand ($30-100), and an umbrella ($25) and you are ready to to go!

K asks…RAW or JPG?


J asks…If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?

Sleep. And I am going to go do it now. You know those heavy eyes I was talking about? It’s happening right now and I must succumb. Oh, and I asked myself that question…just to be clear.

Yawn…it seems I didn’t make it very far though the questions,  so (yawn again) I will save them for the next q and a segment.  I will leave you with two sweet and beautiful sisters from a recent shoot…



  1. Kari Dawson says:

    You’re so awesome for sharing! Just wanted you to know that you’re use of light, that defines your style, has seriously forced me out of my comfort zone to experiment. Thank you for contributing to my growth 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing Jean! I love getting this information so I have more to think about while practicing. And your images? Amazing, like always! Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for sharing Jean! love that you like to spread the love 🙂

  4. Brandi says:

    Great information, great photos. Thank You so much!

  5. Kimberly Madsen says:

    You truly are inspiring and sweet for sharing. Thank you!

  6. Sandrine says:

    This is so helpful!! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!!! You are wonderful!!

  7. Emily says:

    Thanks so much! You don’t know me, but my husband and your friend Alli are cousins. I was talking about how much I love your site one time and she told me you guys were best buds. This post is awesome and so helpful!

  8. brooke says:

    Thank you for sharing this info.. it’s neat to read and learn from you!

  9. Laurel says:

    The Q and A posts are awesome Jean. One of the things I like so much about you is that you value community learning. It’s what moves this industry forward.

  10. Paige says:

    That was so awesome. Thank you for taking the time to answer all those questions. I really feel like I learned a ton from that short q&a. I do, however, have one more question for your next q&a session: Do you use partial or spot metering?

  11. I have been to your blog before. The more I read, the more I keep coming back! ;-P

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