What's in this session?

  • #1: Foreground Element (1:37)
  • #2: Backbutton Focus (6:17)
  • #3: Make Use Of Artificial Light (8:23)

Show notes and resources

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The Transcript

Brady Shearer: I’ve professionally photographed everything from weddings to portraits, from concerts to corporate, and in every one of these situations I use three advance techniques that help me get the job done. Taking photos in church is no exception, and in this podcast you’ll learn three advanced church photography tips from a professional that will surely help take your photo game to a whole nother level.

Brady Shearer: Well, hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Tools, the show where in 10 minutes or less you’re gonna get a dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years. I’m Brady Shearer, joined, as always, to my right, your left, it is Sandy Skills.

Sandy Skills: Well, here I am, Sandy Skills. And, Brady, today we’re gonna talk a little bit about some advanced photography tips. We’ve talked photography tips here and there, a few times. And for those of us listening and watching today, maybe you’re a volunteer photographer in your church, maybe you’re a semi-amateur photographer on the side, doing portraits and weddings. Today, we wanna dive into some advanced photography tips. We don’t wanna talk the basics today. Today we’re talking advanced photography tips that I use in every situation, whether I’m shooting a wedding, or a portrait setting, or shooting stuff at church, or here in the office, I’m using these tips and techniques all the time. And so, I wanted to share them with the people of Pro Church Nation today.

Sandy Skills: And so, if you’re listening to this episode right now, I would suggest that you watch this episode because there’s gonna be examples of all of these tips and techniques on the screen that you can see photos that I’ve taken, here, on paid jobs, all different kinds of photos. And so, you’re gonna see those on the screen today. Let’s jump right in.

Brady Shearer: Let’s do it.

Sandy Skills: So, the first tip that I have is using foreground elements. I find, when I’m taking photos at church, or of people, or in just about every situation. Whether it be people, or product, or settings, I’m looking for a foreground element to add some depth and drama to the image, just so it’s not just one flat layer. But using a shallow depth of field, and throwing some things in the foreground that are maybe out of focus, to do a couple things. One, to add depth to the photo. And then, two, to draw attention to the subject of the photo.

Sandy Skills: And so, I do that in a few ways. One of those ways is in camera. And then, the other two ways are using some tools and tricks that I have up my sleeve. And so, this first image that you’re seeing is from a portrait session, an engagement session that I did this spring. We were in a cherry blossom orchard. And what I did here, and I do this whenever I’m shooting all the time, is I will grab a piece of foliage, often a leaf, something that matches the color palette of the environment I’m shooting in. So, in this case, it was a green leaf from that cherry blossom tree, and I just hold it right in front of my lens here, so it’s out of focus but it just adds that pop of green color, an out-of-focus foreground element that really helps me focus on my subject. And also, with the color, it just brings the palette all together.

Brady Shearer: It’s like an analog overlay.

Sandy Skills: Yes, exactly. So, this is a fake leaf that I grabbed off a plant, here in the office.

Brady Shearer: Grabbed from a church in the ’90s.

Sandy Skills: Sorry about that.

Sandy Skills: But, yeah. If I’m outside, I’ll grab a leaf off the ground. I’ll gently grab one off a tree. I don’t wanna hurt too much nature. But, I’ll use anything outside that looks like the scene that I’m shooting to add that drama to that image.

Sandy Skills: But there’s another tool that I pick up off of Amazon. You can’t find this on the ground. You can find this on Amazon. You can see, if you’re watching, that mine is broken. But that’s okay, because it adds even another element of weirdness to this tool. This is just a glass prism, and we’re … I’ll put the link to this in the show notes below. You can buy it off Amazon for $20. You can buy a cheaper one that’s a little bit smaller.

Sandy Skills: But similarly to how we use the leaf, I’ll put this right in front of my lens. And you’ll see, this photo here, this, Brady, is actually a photo of you. You’re sitting at your desk and I’ve put the prism in front of your computer screen, because I didn’t want your computer screen to draw any attention. I wanted the attention to be on you, which was the subject. So you can see, in this photo, that the prism has just blurred out whatever’s on the screen and add this rainbow prism effect to a little part of the image.

Sandy Skills: Now, this prism is fun because you never really know what kind of light refractions you’re gonna get out of this. And so, the end result is always different, and that’s just a fun thing to do.

Sandy Skills: But this third example that you’re seeing now, is using an element that’s already in the photo and putting it in the foreground to create a leading line. This is a term we use in photography. Using something that’s already in the scene to lead your attention to subject. And so, this is a thumbnail from a couple weeks ago when we were talking about Church Home Global, the new app from Church Home. I put my phone with the Church Home app on the windowsill and used one of these big, blue beams that we have in the office to lead the attention towards the phone, but also add that foreground element.

Sandy Skills: And this is a tip, a trick that you can not only use in still photography, but we use this in our video work all the time.

Brady Shearer: Yeah, obviously, when you’re taking a photo it’s a single frame. So it’s a still image, but using a foreground element in video is tremendously helpful when it comes to accentuating and exaggerating movement. So you might have, let’s say, a slider on, maybe it’s a three foot slider that you put your camera on, and that three feet is really, really short when you’re looking at the entire frame. But if you put that slider on the ground, so your camera is really close the actual pavement or the floor, or if you put it near, let’s say, a piece of foliage and you then slide your camera. Maybe the background is hundreds of feet away, but because that foreground element is just, maybe, six inches away, that movement now becomes actually accentuated.

Sandy Skills: Exactly.

Brady Shearer: We did this. We were in Yosemite and we had our little Ronin S. And, obviously, the El Capitans and half domes of the world are nowhere near my camera frame. So what I do is, I’d go near a tree, or near some grass, so you could see the grass in the foreground, and then I make a subtle movement. Maybe I’ll only moving the camera a foot, but even though I have this gargantuan subject of the actual video, El Capitan, the movement still looks really exaggerated and nice and pleasant. And if that foreground element wasn’t there, it would look like my camera was not moving at all.

Sandy Skills: Exactly, so using foreground elements to manufacturer depth and drama in your images.

Sandy Skills: And the second tip is a camera tip. It piggybacks on using foreground elements. Now, I use auto focus almost exclusively. The auto focus systems in these cameras nowadays are so good that there’s no real point, in a daily situation, to use manual focus because you’re just gonna be as precise as your camera.

Brady Shearer: Camera’s better than you are.

Sandy Skills: And so, I’m using auto focus all the time. But if you’re using a foreground element, and you’re using auto focus, how do you determine what your camera focuses on? And so, this is an advanced camera technique that you can find in the advanced settings of your camera. I’m not gonna explain how to do it on your camera. I’m gonna put the links for major brands in the show notes below. So, whatever brand you’re shooting with, you can find it there.

Sandy Skills: But this is how it works, and it’s called back-button focus. Now, this is my Canon 5D Mark IV. And on the back, here, I have this little button called AF on. I actually have two of them, because I have a battery grip as well. And I’ve assigned these buttons to be my auto focus buttons. So instead of having auto focus on the shutter, it’s auto focus on this back button now. So when I’m taking a photo of that Church Home app, for example, one of the last examples we just looked at, I point my camera towards that phone. I press this back button auto focus button, and now I can … now my focus is locked. Now I can reframe.

Sandy Skills: And when I press the shutter, the shutter’s no longer assigned to auto focus so it’s not gonna be searching again when I go to take that photo. The focus is locked where I locked with back-button focus, and this is great for so many situations. When I’m shooting weddings, and I don’t wanna miss that first kiss, or when the couple’s walking down the aisle and celebrating, I don’t wanna be holding down my shutter and having 10 photos a second go off and have my camera searching for focus. I use that back-button focus, so that I can lock it. And then, when I press that shutter, I know my focus is locked and it’s not gonna be searching.

Sandy Skills: Now, this is applicable to church as well. If you’re doing photos of your worship experience, and your bass guitarist is doing a 360 spin, throwing his guitar, he’s playing his guitar on his back, whatever you wanna catch that moment, you don’t want your camera to searching to focus. And so, lock it in with that back button. And when you go to press that shutter, you know that your shot’s gonna be in focus.

Brady Shearer: Nice.

Sandy Skills: Now, this third tip is a little bit counterintuitive for me, because I’m a sucker for using natural light in photography, especially in this office outside. We just have so much natural light. And so, use it whenever you can. But this third tip is, making use of artificial light. Now, I have three examples of this. The first example that you’re seeing right now is making use of an on camera flashing, using the bulb setting.

Sandy Skills: And so, what’s a bulb setting you ask? Well, it’s, on my camera, it just has a B. And so, what it means is the shutter will stay open as long as you’re holding the shutter [inaudible 00:08:56]. And so, when you’re using an on camera flash, the flash will trigger when you open that shutter. So, it will freeze whatever is going on in that moment. But then, if you keep holding that shutter button open, whatever happens after that moment is gonna get manipulated, and especially … This photo is from a wedding that I shot recently, during the dancing part of the evening. So I wanted … There was this little girl dancing. She was having a blast. It was disco, kind of, so I wanted to communicate that in my photo.

Sandy Skills: And so, I froze the moment with the on camera flash. But then, you can see this if you’re watching, all of the disco lights are all trailed around. They look like snakes. And that’s how I achieved that effect, is with on camera flash on the bulb setting.

Sandy Skills: This next photo is a self portrait that I accomplished using off camera flash. So, I had two flashes set up that triggered, when I took the photo, to create this illusion of motion. It froze my face. This is a self portrait I did here in the studio. It froze my face facing forward, but then you also see these ghosts of my face looking left and right. So, this would be a really cool technique to use in the studio if you’re creating, maybe, a sermon slide, a sermon grab-

Brady Shearer: Staff photos.

Sandy Skills: Yes. Do this for your staff photos. It looks like there’s some ghostly images there, and that’s just using off camera flash.

Sandy Skills: And my third tip for artificial light is using the stage lighting that you have already installed at your church. This photo you’re seeing now is not from a church service. It’s from a concert that I recently shot. You can see that there’s haze going on. And I waited for that perfect moment when the haze had risen up out of the ground, and the golden light is just hitting this haze and creating this drama in this image that I could have never created with on camera flash, off camera flash. I just made use of the stage lighting that was already set up. The haze helped me a little bit, and embracing that. Stage lighting can sometimes be tough to handle, especially if you’re used to shooting in natural light. But if you embrace it and look for ways to use that artificial light that is probably already there on your stage, you might get some really incredible results.

Brady Shearer: Great tips from Alexander Buffalo Bills, and that’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Tools. We’ll see you next time.

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