The Professional Photographer's Marketing Toolkit

THE ESSENTIALS

1. business cards

Business cards are essential for conveying professionalism. When someone asks for your card after you've told them you're a photographer, you don't want to be without them.

Click here for tips on designing your card. You can also visit fairwayprinting.com to learn more about our printing and graphic design services.

2. A professional email address

Use a professional email. At the very least, use a Gmail account with only your first and last name (and not a random assortment of numbers, etc). Ideally, your email should use a custom domain — something like info@yourname.com. You can get a custom email like this using Google's G Suite for $5 a month.

3. a website

A website will not only establish your professionalism, but it will also open up opportunities for booking clients. People will want to know where they can find your work, and website portfolios are often expected these days.

Click here for tips on designing an effective portfolio site.

GOOD TO HAVE

4. Social media

Establish a professional social media presence.

If you're going to be on one network as a photographer, it should probably be Instagram. Here are some tips on using the platform to advance yourself as professional photographer and differentiate yourself from the average Instagram user.

You may also want to consider Facebook and Tumblr.

5. call sheets

Use a call sheet for your photoshoots. This document will include all of the information that you and your crew will need do know before, during (and even after) a photoshoot — things like contact information, location details, your concept and timeline.

By making this part of your toolkit, you can keep yourself organized while impressing clients and making things easy for everyone you’re working with.

Here are some tips on putting together your own call sheet. We've also included a template that you can customize.

6. Price sheets

In addition to business cards, you might often get asked if you have a price sheet. While your pricing might vary depending on the particular job, if there's a certain service you specialize in — such as portrait sessions or headshots — it's a good idea to put together some package options. Learn more about how to package your services here.

NICE TO HAVE

7. Thank you notes

If you really want to impress your clients, consider sending thank you notes. You can get custom-printed cards with your own images and logo. Your clients will appreciate this unexpected touch.

8. welcome packets

Some wedding, portrait and headshot photographers offer welcome packets, which include information such as how to prepare for their photoshoot, pricing for prints and retouching, terms and condition, etc.

Need help designing or printing your marketing materials? Visit fairwayprinting.com to learn more about our printing and graphic design services.

How to Package Your Photography Services and Design a Price Sheet (With Template)

Once you've set your basic rates for your photography services, you may be interested in putting together some package deals. Packages can help make your sessions more appealing to clients. They make things easier on your end (as you'll have a template for your sessions), and can even help you earn more money by grouping and suggesting services.

We've put together some tips below on how to organize your offerings and set up a professional price sheet. To download our template, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Keep it simple

Keep your price menu as clean and clutter-free as possible. Your goal is to design a sheet that's easy to scan.

If there are features or offerings that apply to all of your sessions, list these at the top of your sheet rather than repeating them under each package. Repeating information and presenting them as features for each of your packages will not make them look more appealing. Only list what's adding real value.

Your clients should be able to tell the difference between your packages quickly, so focus on large differences over minor, incremental ones.

Offer 3 or 4 packages

Most photographers' price sheets include 3-4 packages:

  • Package #3 or #4 will be your deluxe package. It's for clients who want to splurge, and includes all the bells and whistles. It's not necessarily what you're trying to sell, but it's designed to make your other packages appear reasonable in comparison.
  • Package #2 will be your most appealing option. The wording should draw attention to what's missing from Package #1, and highlight what they can get from Package 2 for just a bit more money.
  • Package #1 provides an entry-point for people who are interested in your services, but are not quite ready to spend more.

As you're deciding what to include in each package, think about what your clients really want. Don't just list everything you can offer — what do your clients actually need? If you design your packages right, people won't be requesting to swap out features all the time.

You might also find it helpful to have an 'a-la-cart' list on the side of your price sheet, featuring add-ons for each package.

list your most expensive package first

Again, your highest package is designed to make your other options seem reasonable. As your clients read from top to bottom, they will see all the features they're missing out on if they go with the lowest package. This will also make your price sheet easier to read: you'll be taking away options, instead of adding more.

choose your words carefully

Here's a great example of word choose can affect your packaging, from an article on Virtual Photography. Take this list of words:

Shoot / Photograph
Images / Pictures
Collections / Packages

While you might use the word "shoot" more often than "photography," put yourself in your clients' shoes — which sounds more appealing?

Thank about who you're marketing to, and adjust your wording accordingly. If you're a wedding photographer, for example, opt for language that sounds more high-end and elegant.


Download our PRICE SHEET template

Enter your email below to download our price sheet template for Adobe InDesign.

 
 

Need help with your design set-up? Or a place to print your finished product? Contact us. You can learn more about our printing and design services at fairwayprinting.com

Why You Need a Photographic Niche (And How to Find One)

Why find a photographic niche?

Establish credibility and build your reputation. This can help you bring in referrals. If someone is looking for a wedding photographer, for example, they are most likely going to ask their friends if they know a good wedding photographer, specifically. Same goes for newborns, headshots, etc.

Focus your marketing efforts. When you narrow your target market, your marketing efforts will be more effective. You'll have a more focused and higher quality message, and a better understanding of where to promote yourself. You're more likely to find the people who want what you're selling.

Stand out from the crowd. Consider a more specific, uncommon niche — such as tattoo photography — that will allow you to stand out from the crowd. While you may not be casting the widest net, for those who are interest, you've caught their attention and established yourself as an expert — you'll be the go-to person.

How to choose a niche

Some questions to ask yourself: 

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you good at?
  • How well does it pay?
  • What is the competition?
  • How difficult is it to break into?
  • Is there any special equipment required?
  • Is it contingent on location?

Some common niches

  • weddings
  • newborns
  • children / families
  • portraits
  • headshots
  • fashion
  • stock
  • product
  • food
  • landscape
  • street
  • architecture
  • travel

How to Use a Power Pack with Flash Heads

One of the benefits of studio photography is that ability to take advantage of off-camera flash, which provides more power and control than an on-camera flash. There are several different options for off-camera strobe lighting, such as speedlights, monoblocks, and power pack / flash head combinations. Though not very portable, packs and flash heads are the most powerful option — they are perfect for studio shoots. At Fairway, we include a Profoto Acute 2R 1200 Power Pack and two Pro 7 Flash Heads with our studio rentals. Here’s what you need to know about using this equipment. 

 

 

This is a power pack. It's a generator that operates on AC power (so it must be plugged into the wall). The Acute 2R 1200 Pack has a power output of 1200W, and three ports for connecting flash heads (labeled here as "A" and "B"). 

 

This is a flash head. It should be attached to a light stand and can be outfitted with a softbox, reflector, umbrella or other light modifier — all of which provide different qualities of lighting.

Here's our typical setup that should work for most photoshoots: a flash head with a large softbox on our righthand side, and a flash head with a medium softbox on the left. The smaller softbox serves as the fill light, meaning it's used to fill in the shadows produced by our main light.

Softboxes produce soft, even lighting. Click to learn more about the different lighting produced by softboxes and umbrellas.

 

The flash heads do not light continuously; they are controlled wireless by a Pocketwizard Transmitter and Receiver. The Transmitter is attached with a wire to the Power Pack, and the Receiver hooks up to the top of your camera. Make sure they are set to the same channel. When you press the shutter and take your photo, the flash heads will light automatically.


 

Understanding the Power Pack Controls and Settings:

  • MOD.A, MOD.B, MOD.LIGHT — these settings control the "modeling lights." Modeling lights allow you to see where the light will hit. When the modeling lights are on, the strobes will light continuously at a more modest setting.
  • If you want to set off the strobes without taking a photo, press the white TEST button.
  • The strobes will not work unless the TEST button, or "ready lamp", is lit up. It resets every 1/4-second, typically. The more power you use, the slower the recycle time. We recommend turning the SOUND setting on, so the pack will beep when the ready lamp lights up again. 
  • Each light can be set to full power, half power or quarter power. This is controlled using the switches labeled A and B. Remember that the more power you use, the slower the recycle time (it's best not to use more than necessary).
  • You can use symmetrical or asymmetrical power distribution between your lights. To control the power setting of each light individually, select the A+B setting. For symmetrical distribution, select A <--> B.
  • SYNC — This is where you plug in the transmitter cord.

Camera Settings + Lighting

Set your camera to manual mode. You'll need to set your aperture and exposure settings. For studio lighting, you'll typically use an aperture between f8 and f12 and a shutter speed of about 1/200 with your iso at 100-400. If you find that your lighting is too dark or too light, keep making adjustments until you get it just right. You can also adjust the power settings of your lights, as well as their placements.

How to Use Instagram as a Professional Photographer

If you’re going to be on one social network as a photographer, it should be Instagram. And as a professional, your account should distinguish itself from the average user. 

Here are eight tips for using the platform effectively to promote your work.

1. Instagram is not your portfolio.

Your account should not simply regurgitate everything that’s in your portfolio. Have some fun with it. Experiment, and share spontaneous shots that may not be published elsewhere. 

You can think of it as a visual diary: give your followers a glimpse into your life, or a behind-the-scenes look at a project you’re working on.

With all this in mind, you’ll still want to establish that you’re a professional. Create a sense of balance between more carefully planned out photos and more impromptu ones.

2. Be consistent in your subject matter.

This doesn’t mean you should restrict yourself entirely. But when someone lands on your feed, they should see an overall theme — whether it’s landscapes, portraits, street photography or fashion. Give them a reason to follow you, and let them know what to expect.

3. Use a consistent editing style.

Again, your feed should have a cohesive overall look. Whether you’re posting photos from your DSLR, iPhone camera or both, establish an editing process.

Most photographers prefer third-party apps — such as VSCO Cam or Adobe Lightroom Mobile — to Instagram’s built-in editing features. (To distinguish yourself from “Instagram photographers,” you may want to avoid Instagram filters.)

Keep in mind that your Instagram photos will be viewed at small sizes, so you don’t have to worry so much about details like noise and grain.

4. Write a good bio.

This is the first thing people will see. Keep it short and to the point. Include a link to your website, as well as your email and location, so people who want to work with you will know how to contact you and where you’re based.

5. Write short descriptions for your photos.

Include a description with every image, and be concise. If your text is longer than a few lines, people will have to expand it to read the rest.

Add context to your images — they’ll be far more interesting this way. If you’re posting a photo of a landmark, for example, name it in the description and use the location tool.

6. Use hashtags wisely.

Don’t insert hashtags into every other word of your photo description — it looks unprofessional (ex: This is yesterday’s #model at my #photoshoot in #nyc). Instead, attach them to the end of your post, and don’t go overboard. If you’re using a lot of hashtags, post them as a comment instead of in the original description.

Do some research and experimenting in deciding which hashtags to use. Keep in mind that if you use popular ones like #photography, you might end up with a lot of spam and bot comments. Try to find some niche hashtags that describe your photography style and are not overused.

Once you’ve found what works for you, you can use apps like Tagsdock to create custom hashtag lists that you can re-use to save time.

7. Engage with the Instagram community.

Find and connect with photographers who inspire you, and follow accounts that you are genuinely interested in. Join conversations in a meaningful way (don’t just spam for followers). And be sure to reply to people who comment on your work. 

There are a lot of “quick fixes” to build your following, but if you share great content and explore Instagram from a place of genuine interest, you’ll grow your following organically with followers who are you actually interested in your work.

8. Keep a regular schedule.

Don’t flood your followers’ feeds by posting a series of photos all at once. Post once a day, or every three days. Whatever you decide, keep a regular schedule.

* * *

Don’t overthink it, don’t be afraid to be emojis and remember to have fun with it. While you should have a general plan for how you’ll use your account, as well as an editing system in place, Instagram is about sharing images quickly and with ease. And don’t forget that it’s a social network. Ideally, you’re connecting with other photographers by following their work and sharing your own.

Photoshoot Prep Checklist

There are a lot of moving parts when you’re organizing a photoshoot — it can be difficult to keep track of it all. Here’s a checklist to help keep you organized and put you at ease. Keep scrolling for a PDF version that you can use as a checklist.

The Week of the Shoot

  • Confirm with everyone involved.
  • Send call sheet to crew.
  • Prepare mood board and/or shot list, lighting plans, etc.
  • Review equipment list. Indicate:
    • equipment you are bringing
    • equipment provided by the studio
    • additional equipment needed
      • Make arrangements for rental equipment if necessary.
  • Scout location; know what to expect.
    • Check out food and parking nearby, etc.

The Day Before the Shoot

  • Review equipment list and pack gear.
  • Charge camera batteries.
  • Pack backup equipment.
    • battery
    • memory card
  • Check camera settings.
  • Format memory card.
  • Clean lenses.
  • Check directions.
  • Review details such as shot list, client requests, etc.

DOwnload the checklist

Enter your email below for a PDF version of this list that you can use as a checklist.

 

How to Use Focal Lock for Precise Focus

Use focal lock to ensure the right parts of your photo are in focus.

Your camera’s autofocus tool will typically focus on the center of your frame — so it’s not the most reliable tool when your subject is off-center. Focal locking allows you to select the exact spot you want in focus.

Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Pose your subject and compose your shot.

  2. Aim your camera's focal point (it will light up red in your viewfinder) at the exact spot you want to focus on. Press the shutter button down halfway.

  3. Without releasing the shutter, move your camera back to recompose the shot. Then press the button down fully to take your shot.

In your final image, the initial spot where you pressed the shutter halfway will be in focus, even though you moved the camera afterwards.

In addition to being used for off-center subjects, focal locking can be used in standard portraits for sharply focused eyes: frame your subject, pull your camera up to lock the focus on the eyes, then pull the camera back down to position your subject in the center of the frame.

Creating Your Call Sheet (With Template)

call sheet example

A call sheet is a document with all of the information that you and your crew will need do know before, during (and even after) a photoshoot — things like contact information, location details, your concept and timeline.

This master sheet is particularly important when you’re working with a big crew or producing film, but it’s also really helpful for smaller photoshoots with just a few people involved. By making this part of your toolkit, you can keep yourself organized while impressing clients and making things easy for everyone you’re working with. It’s an easy extra step to take, especially if you have a template. We've included a template below that you can customize. Scroll to the bottom of this post to download.

Here are some important details a call sheet might include ... 

  • important contact information
  • date, day of week, time
  • location details — Where are you meeting? Will there be any secondary locations? You might also include a Google Maps link, parking options, etc.
  • names of people involved — Let people know what to expect. List the names of your crew, talent, hair/makeup and anyone else who will be part of your project. You don’t have to include everyone’s contact information — this could get confusing. 
  • timeline — What’s your arrival time? When will be you setting up, and when do you want to start shooting? Will there be any breaks? When’s wrap-up? You might also want to include here whether there will be coffee or breakfast provided when you get there, what you will be doing for lunch, etc. Indicate whether certain members of your team can arrive at different times.
  • concept — Include a briefing of your concept. You might also want to provide an attachment or link to a more detailed mood board.
  • wardrobe — Detail any outfits that models should bring themselves, and whether there’s anything to be avoided.
  • special instructions — A section with any other important details that people should know.

Download Template

Enter your email below for a simple call sheet template that you can easily customize to fit your own needs. Available for Google Docs or as a Microsoft Word file.

 
 

Portfolio Website Tips for Photographers

While platforms like Instagram, Flickr and 500px are all great options for showing your work, it’s also a good idea to have a website. A website will help you convey professionalism, market yourself to your ideal client as well as set expectations for what you offer. And with tools like Squarespace, Wordpress and Wix, it’s easy to put one together. Here are some tips for an effective site.

for your portfolio ...

  • Don’t include all your work – just your best. Be selective and show what you’re proud of.
  • What type of work do you want to be hired for? Make this the focus of your portfolio.
  • Keeping that in mind, you’ll also want to show your range.
  • Be strategic about the order. Place your best photos at the beginning and end. Draw your visitors in, and then make the ending memorable.
photography portfolio gallery example

for your website design ...

  • Use a simple, clean design. Let your photography be the focus.
  • If you’re using a template, customize the settings (fonts, colors, etc.).
  • Don’t go overboard: stick to just a couple fonts.
  • Make the navigation simple and easy to use, without too many menu items. If all you have is “about,” “contact,” and “portfolio,” that’s fine.
  • Make your contact information easy to find. Depending on your layout, you may want to put it in your footer or header so that it shows up on every page.
  • Understand your audience. What type of clients are you trying to attract? This will affect your design choices. If you’re a corporate photographer, for example, your fonts and colors should convey professionalism. Wedding photographers typically make use of white space and feminine typography.
photographer's website example

for your about page ...

  • Distinguish yourself from other photographers by spending some time crafting this page.
  • Make it clear, concise, and creative.
  • What’s your approach to photography? What do you love about it. Tell the story of what led you to this point of view. Talk about how you got started, and what your plans are for the future.
  • Make it personal. Include a few unique details about yourself.
  • Make sure to have a great self-portrait! 
photographer's website about page example

5 Essential Smartphone Apps for Photographers

1. Younity

Younity gives you access to all of your media stored on your computer — including your Lightroom and Apple Photos libraries. It's easy to set up and use, and has a great design. 

  • access your Lightroom folders, collections, and "Recent Photos" view
  • one-click post to Instagram
  • connect to any Airprint-enabled printer
  • stream ot a TV with Apple AirPlay or Apple TV (great for presenting your portfolio)

Price: Free
Platform: iOS, Anroid

Younity App

2. Easy Release

Manage model release forms from your phone — so you won't have to worry about carrying around and keeping track of paper forms.

  • edit client details
  • collect signatures
  • email forms as PDFs
  • personalize the header with your company's name and logo
  • keep track of signatures

Price: $9.99
Platform: iOs, Android

easy release app screenshot

3. The Photographer's Ephemeris

This extensive app helps you plan for outdoor shots. It’s a sun and moon calculator helps you see how the light will fall based on your location. 

  • time and direction of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset
  • phase of the moon and % illumination
  • times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilight
  • graphical display on a wide selection of map types
  • two topographical/terrain map types
  • movable map pins
  • shadow lengths displayed to scale on map
  • save locations
  • celestial events including moon phases, apogee, perigee, solstice, equinox

Price: $8.99
Platform: iOs, Android, Desktop

The Photographer's Ephemeris app screenshot

4. The Photographer's Transit

The sister app of The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It helps you scout out locations for outdoor shoots, with field of view visualization tools that help you decide which lenses to use. You can also play with composition from the app using Google Street View.

  • plan the best possible camera, lens and shooting location using the sophisticated field of view visualization
  • detailed elevation profiles allow you to scout sight-lines virtually
  • check if your planned focal length will capture your subject
  • offline maps and elevation charts
  • share your shot plan easily with friends or colleagues
  • works with The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Price: $8.99
Platform: iOS

The Photographer's Transit app screenshot

5. PhotoBuddy

PhotoBuddy lets you easily calculate camera settings on the go, such as depth of field, exposure and color temperature. The app has a well-designed, easy-to-use interface. Features include: 

  • view sunrise and sunset times for any location
  • calculate exposure changes (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO)
  • calculate depth of field
  • diffraction limit and angle of view calculators
  • use a gray wedge to determine white balance

Price: $1.99
Platform: iOS

PhotoBuddy app screenshot

Defining Your Concept: Tips for Creating a Mood Board

The first step to preparing for a photoshoot is to define your concept. Maybe you have a vision but you’re not exactly sure how to articulate or execute it. A mood board, or story board, will help you with this. Simply put, a mood board is a collage of inspiration to be used as a reference point before and during your photoshoot. It will help you clarify your vision while getting the rest of your team on the same page. Here are some tips for putting one together.

1. It’s helpful if you have lots to pull from when it comes time to decide on your concept, so you should always be collecting inspiration. Collect tear sheets, save images to a folder on your desktop, make use of your screenshot tool, and take lots of pictures on your phone. Even if you’re not sure where or when you’ll use it, if you see something that inspires you, save it for later.

Programs like Evernote will let you store everything in one place — photos, notes, articles, lists — and then organize with folders and tags (here’s a great article on using Evernote for mood boards).

2. Have a visual reference point for every aspect of your photoshoot: hair, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, models, model poses, and props. If you’re working with a team, it can be helpful to dedicate a section of your mood board to each member of your team — your stylist, makeup artist, model, etc.

3. Start with an inspiration board — a poster, folder, Pinterest board, etc., with everything that sparks your interest — and then edit it down to a cohesive final mood board. Don’t overwhelm yourself (or your team) with too many images. You can simply arrange your photos on a page in Photoshop, or use an online tool such as Moodboard, Mural.ly, Niice, Pixelboard, or Pinterest.

mood board examples

Business Card Tips for Photographers

Business cards are an essential part of your marketing toolkit when you’re trying to book clients or establish yourself as a professional photographer. They’ll help you convey legitimacy, make a lasting impression, and ensure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities to connect. 

Here are some tips for well-designed card ...

1. Prioritize your contact information.

The purpose of a business card is to make it easy for people to contact you. Prioritize this when you’re designing your card. Make sure your contact information is easy to spot at a quick glance, and easy to read. Keep it all on one side.

photographer's business card example

The most important things to include will probably be your name, phone number, email address, and a link to your website.

If there’s room, you can include social media links, but don’t go overboard. People should be able to use your website to find all of your other important links and platforms, so don’t stress about trying to include everything. Resist the temptation to shrink down your text to fit as much information as possible. A clean, clutter-free design is more desirable.

2. Use consistent branding in your design.

photographer's business card example

Match your design to the aesthetic of your portfolio. Ideally, your card will give people an idea of what type of work you do.

Consider what type of people you’d like to hire you. This will determine whether you want something playful, or if you’ll need a more sleek and polished look.

As a photographer, you have the opportunity to get more creative with your design than professionals from other industries.

3. Think about practicality.

Again, keep all of your contact information — and other critical info — on one side. Your other side can feature your logo, a picture, and other non-critical information. Most photographers choose to utilize both sides of the card.

Keep fonts simple and easy-to-read. In general, you’ll want to stick to two. 

As a photographer, you’ll want to make sure that your business card shows that you have good design sense. Photo editors and art buyers really pay attention to things like font choice, shapes, and color.

photographer business card example

4. Consider including a photo.

photographer business card example

Use your card to show off one of your photos. This will give people an idea of what type of work you do. Choose carefully, though. This might be the one chance you have to inspire someone to view the rest of your portfolio.

Make sure that the photo you choose is representative of your work. If you generally shoot portraits, your business card should feature a portrait, not a landscape.

You may also choose to show a couple smaller photos.

* * *

Visit fairwayprinting.com to learn more about our printing and design services. 

Using Reflectors

A reflector is used to bounce, or reflect, existing light. It’s a portable, flexible tool that can dramatically enhance the lighting in your photos. They are easy to manipulate and experiment with.

Most reflectors you’ll see will be a piece of reflective fabric stretched over a flexible ring. However, there are many different types which differ in size, shape, and color.

silver and gold reflectors

For portraits, a small reflector is usually suitable, and it will be easier to handle. Larger reflectors will diffuse light across a larger area, creating a softer light.

Silver reflectors work well for studio lighting. They won’t change the color of the lighting and out of all the reflectors, will reflect the most amount of light. White reflectors are a bit more subtle, and will typically have to be placed closer to the subject. Gold reflectors will create a warm glow, similar to sunlight.

A reflector can make a great fill light (a secondary light source, used to lighten or fill in shadows created by your main light). Try placing it on the opposite side of your subject from your main light, and use it bounce light onto dark shadows. You can also place it below your subject to fill in shadows under the nose and eyes.

Using Catchlights for Portrait Photography

A catchlight is a reflection or glimmer in the subject’s eye. It helps draw attention to the eyes — arguably your portrait’s most important feature — and brings dimension, depth, and life to a photo. Painters used catchlights in their portraits long before photography was introduced. While it may not be immediately noticeable, catchlights will affect the overall look and feel of your photo.

The size, shape, brightness, and position of a catchlight is determined by the light source used. They may be round or rectangular, depending on your light source. The larger the light source, the larger the catchlight. And if you use more than one light, you may see multiple reflections in your subject’s eyes. There is no “correct” way to use catchlights. However, many photographers prefer what’s most natural-looking — catchlights resembling those created by the sun.

Photographers typically position catchlights at the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position in the eyes (again, this mimics light created by the sun). For a natural-looking portrait, you’ll want them to be balanced — so if the left eye is positioned at 10 o’clock, the right eye should be as well. Have your subject face the light and try placing the source slightly above their head, at a 45-degree angle between the subject and camera. You may find a reflector useful for bouncing light into their eyes.

Understanding Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the length of time that the shutter is open, or the amount of time that the camera’s sensor views your scene. A fast shutter speed freezes action, while a slow shutter speed will create a “motion blur.”  A slow shutter speed may be used to convey a sense of movement — to show water flow, for example, or if you’re photographing a runner, you can use a slow shutter setting to convey a sense of speed.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds, or fractions of a second: 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, etc. (the speed typically doubles with each camera setting).

So how do you decide which shutter speed to use? Ask yourself what’s moving in the scene, and how you’d like to capture it — whether you want your image to have a sense of movement, or if you’d like to freeze movement. Movement typically freezes at 1/500th of a second or faster.

If you use a shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second, you’ll likely need a tripod. It will be difficult to avoid holding your camera steady for this long, and you may get an unintentional blur in your image.

Remember that shutter speed affects exposure, so if you’re working in manual mode and change the shutter speed, you’ll also have to adjust the ISO and aperture to maintain exposure.

You may also choose to work in Shutter Priority Mode, usually indicated by a “Tv” or “S” symbol on your camera. In this semi-manual mode, you select the shutter speed and the camera will automatically select the proper aperture. A fast shutter speed will use a small depth of field (large aperture).

Understanding Aperture

When you press your camera’s shutter release button, a hole opens up to let the image sensor view the scene. This opening is the aperture, which you can adjust to let more or less light hit your camera’s sensor.

Aperture is measured in “f-stops”: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22.
Note: the large apertures (larger openings) are given smaller numbers.

The size of the lens opening is doubled, or halved, when you move from one f-stop to the next. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening.

When you change your camera’s aperture, the main thing that will change is the depth of field (DOF), which controls how much of your shot is in focus. With a large depth of field, most of your image will be in focus (a large DOF is typically used for landscape shots). When you use a small depth of field, part of the image will in focus and the rest will be blurry. A shallow depth of field is often used for portraits (it keeps the focus on the subject, rather than the background), macro photography, and creative shots. Smaller f-stop numbers (large apertures) decrease the depth of field, while large f-stop numbers (small apertures) increase the amount of the scene that’s in focus.

If you’re working in your camera’s manual mode, keep in mind that when you change the aperture, you’ll also have to adjust the ISO and shutter speed to maintain exposure. (More on that here.) 

You can also work in Aperture Priority Mode — usually indicated by “A” or “Av” on your camera. In this semi-manual mode, you select the f-stop number and the camera will automatically select the proper shutter speed.

Understanding White Balance

To get the colors in your photos as accurate as possible, it’s helpful to understand your camera’s “white balance.” When properly adjusted, this setting will help your photos look natural.

What You Should Know

Different light sources and lighting conditions produce different colors, or “temperatures,” which is measured in units of Kelvin (K). Fluorescent lighting, for example, adds a bluish tint to photos, while tungsten (bulbs and incandescent lights) can create a yellow cast.

Our eyes naturally adjust to different color temperatures, so you won’t notice any color cast before taking a picture. Our cameras, however, do not: they need us to tell them how to treat different type of light. This is where “white balance” comes in — it balances the color temperature in your images. For cool light (green or blue), you’ll tell the camera to warm things up and for warm light, you’ll tell it to cool down. 

If properly balanced, white objects will not have a blue or yellow tint in your photos.

How to Adjust Your White Balance

Semiautomatic Settings

Most digital cameras have preset white balances. This often produces decent results, although it’s not as accurate as a manual adjustment (see below). The settings most commonly offered are: 

  • Auto: the camera makes its best guess for each individual photo; can be set anywhere from 2,000-10,000 K
  • Daylight: for shooting in direct sunlight; 5,000-5,500 K
  • Shade: for when you're shooting in the shade (no direct sun) with a blue sky; 7,000-7,500 K
  • Cloudy: white sky; 6,000-6,500 K
  • Tungsten: for shooting indoors with incandescent lighting (standard household light bulb); 2,800-3,200 K
  • Fluorescent: typically found in commercial spaces; 3,400-3,800 K
  • Flash: emulates daylight; 5,000-5,500 K

Manual Settings

Most DSLRs allow for manual white balance adjustments. Basically, you tell your camera what white looks like (by holding up a piece of white paper, for example), so it has a point of reference for how other colors should look. This setting can be found in different spots for various camera models — some have a “WB” button on the camera body, while others are found in the “settings” section. (If you’re not sure where to find it, refer to your camera’s manual or Google the camera model.)

Some cameras also have the option to manually set the color temperature in degrees Kelvin.

Understanding Exposure

If you want to venture out of your camera’s auto mode to have more control over your images, one of the most important things to understand is exposure, which determines how light or dark your photo will be.

If your camera doesn’t let in enough light, your photo will underexposed and you won’t see things very well. If you let in too much light, your photo will be overexposed – it’ll be too bright to see details. Your goal is to achieve perfect exposure by balancing three main elements: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

  • ISO is the measure of the camera sensor’s light sensitivity.
  • Aperture is the opening in a lens that can be adjusted to let more or less light hit a digital camera’s sensor.
  • Shutter speed is the amount of time, expressed in fractions of a second, that the shutter is open to let light through the aperture.

ISO, aperture, and shutter speed all work together. These settings can help you achieve certain creative effects, but you have to keep in mind that if you adjust one setting, the other two will be affected. You’ll have to adjust all three in order to maintain perfect exposure. Refer to the chart below to see how they affect your photos.

 
Exposure cheat sheet. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings for digital photography.
 

Your DSLR should have a light meter to gage your exposure. If your meter is at 0, your photo is perfectly exposed; -2 is underexposed, and +2 is overexposed.

If your pictures are too bright, try upping your shutter speed, increasing your aperture, and/or reducing your ISO. If your pictures are too dark, reduce the shutter speed, decrease your aperture, and/or increase the ISO.

Using a Beauty Dish

A beauty dish is a type of light modifier popular among portrait and fashion photographers. The metal disc is attached to a light source, and its parabolic shape reflects back into and out the sides of the dish. The result is dramatic lighting that wraps around the subject.

Beauty dishes produce semi-hard light — softer than a strobe but harder than a softbox — with soft edges. They’re popular for portraits because they create contrast and can highlight cheekbones, muscles, and other facial features. Some photographers like to set up the beauty dish to point downwards at the model to accentuate bone structure and highlight the eyes, lips, nose, and chin. 

beauty dish

Rather than diffusing light, as many other modifiers do, beauty dishes reflect light and distribute it towards a focal point. And because the light wraps around the model, there is no “hot spot” in the middle, as there often is with other types of reflectors. To create softer lighting and a dramatic effect, the beauty dish can be covered with a diffuser called a honeycomb grid or sock.

Beauty dishes have a sweet spot where they work best. You’ll want to experiment to see where it best accentuates your subject’s features. Typically, they’re placed close to the model — about 6 inches to 2 feet from their face. To see some examples of setups, check out these sources: 
Adorama
Tuts Plus
Expert Photography

Using Strobes for Studio Photography

Strobes are large external flashes that can be specifically placed and angled towards the subject for soft, realistic lighting.

profoto studio strobe light

They provide more flexibility than built-in flashes, which will always go off from the same direction that the lens is pointed, often resulting in harsh shadows and flat, unrealistic lighting. Strobes are generally more powerful than other types of off-camera flashes and are very popular in studio photography. (We include Profoto flash heads with our studio rentals.)

You’ll have your strobe (or light head) attached to a light stand and a type of diffuser, such as a softbox or umbrella. The strobe is plugged into a power source and is triggered by a transmitter, which may be wireless or hooked up directly to the camera. (Fairway uses the wireless PocketWizard Transmitter, which allows you to move freely throughout the studio.)

You’ll want to adjust your camera’s aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings so that they work well with the additional lighting from the strobe. TutsPlus suggests starting with an aperture setting between f8 and f12, a shutter speed of about 1/200 second, and your ISO set between 100 and 400. In terms of positioning, TutsPlus recommends placing your light about 6 feet away from the camera. You can start within these guidelines and then experiment to see the different results you get.