On The Beach; Class Time For The Carnival Cruise Line Photographers

Beach time is picture time; sometimes in the sun and sometimes in the shade. We did it all recently while I was teaching some of Carnival Cruise Line's photographers who were chosen to be a part of my college on the Imagination. At Grand Cayman we all went to one of the beaches for a fun class in casual portraiture. The lessons learned there I felt should be shared with readers of Shutterbug.

On our initial approach walking along the water's edge I had no idea what we were going to shoot. All I knew was that there were pictures out there to be made and we were going to have fun creating them. The first thing that caught my eye was a beautiful white dead tree trunk right next to the beach. I knew that if I posed people by the tree, the tree would take attention away from my subjects. This was going to be my first lesson, for sure.

I explained to the group why we weren't going to pose people close to the tree. But, since it was such an incredible natural piece of art, we could still use it as a background. The sky was a medium blue with a few light, fluffy clouds. I immediately thought of dramatizing the whole scene by using my Canon EOS D60 that had been adapted to shoot infrared pictures (see www.irdigital.net for camera conversion info). That would make the sky dramatically darker with the clouds showing a much brighter white than they actually appeared to the eye. The leaves of other trees in the background would appear white against the sky. It was a no-brainer.

I exposed manually at the typical 1/125 sec at f/16. My 16-35mm wide angle lens kept the people large in the foreground, letting the background recede in size and importance. To keep the composition interesting and fun I posed a row of people seated on the ground, a row leaning over them, and a third row leaning over them all. I positioned them at right angles to the direct sunshine, so that they wouldn't be looking directly into the sunlight.

Group Shot

All Photos © 2006, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

For the rest of the pictures I shot with my Canon EOS 5D using a 28-135mm IS lens. I began by having a couple pose near the tree, but not in front of it. I kept them in the lower right of the photograph, allowing lots of space above them to show the scale of the people to the huge tree. I also wanted to show only a part of the tree. To show it all would have taken too much attention away from the couple. I positioned them to get the sunlight on her face. Although his face was going to be in shadow I knew that I could get detail there with the help of Photoshop.

In Photoshop I darkened and lightened areas of the photograph without affecting the color. To do this I changed the Mode of the photograph to Lab Color and selected the Lightness channel. Using the Burn and Dodge tools I lightened his dark profile and darkened the bright shirt that she was wearing. Then, I took the picture back into RGB mode.

I reminded everyone that for profiles the subjects' bodies should be at a 45Þ angle to the camera, rather than having them face straight toward each other, their shoulders going directly into the lens. His right arm connected the two together. I had them both put the foot closest to the camera up on a higher rock, immediately dropping the weight onto their back leg. Their forward leg was positioned in front of their back leg--no separation.

Later, in Photoshop, I darkened the foreground and the upper corners of the sky to keep the viewer's eye from wandering around the photograph.

Open Up The Shadows

For the next picture I had a couple run along the water's edge. I had the camera focused at a given point and shot the picture when they approached that place. I could have set the camera to keep focusing as they moved closer, but I had never done that before and wasn't sure exactly how it would work. I purposely selected a girl with long hair, hoping that the wind would blow it just the way it actually happened. I had them repeat the run several times to get the timing right with both of them looking in the same direction and him pointing all at the same time.

I cropped the picture to a long, narrow image, leaving plenty of room in front of them. This was to give the appearance that they were running into the scene, rather than running out of the picture. I was shooting from ground level to keep the camera at a height that would keep their heads up into the sky. I didn't want to have the horizon line cutting through their faces.

Then I got all the photographers to join hands. I counted to three and had them all run along the water's edge. Some of them had to get into the water, but they didn't mind it at all. I took the picture three or four times and then selected the one that looked the most spontaneous.

It's been pretty much routine now to take almost every photograph of mine into Photoshop and go to Image>Adjust> Shadow/Highlight. This was particularly useful when working out in the direct sunlight to open up some of the harsh shadows and show detail throughout the picture. Of course judicious cropping helps a lot. Notice, again I left room in front of them, so that they could appear to be running into the picture. Photographs like this are also great for families with children. They really get into the action and usually have very animated expressions. At the same time you can see their respective heights at a certain time of their lives.

Focus Point

Nearby where we were shooting was a raised thatched porch going over part of the beach. I wanted to put some people inside the porch and shoot up to them, but it was private and wasn't accessible. Actually, that worked to our benefit. Because we couldn't get anyone up there I posed them on the beach, below it. I got down on my back and shot up at them, keeping the thatched roof above them and in the background.

The Shadow/Highlight feature in Photoshop gave me lots of unexpected detail under the roof. Since they were in bright, direct sunlight I stopped my lens down to f/22. The sky went a beautiful, deep blue. Again, the cropping focused attention to just what I wanted you to see. Notice how I kept them down into the bottom right side of the picture, giving them lots of room to look into the scene.