I have been shooting daily since 2008, but I can tell you that it still takes time to process a scene visually.

In this tutorial, I am going to walk you through my first clumsy attempt at a photo and then share how I dialed in the scene to create a memory for my portfolio. Here are seven changes I made mentally and physically to get the shot!

First photo taken:

before picture by Caroline Jensen

1. Shooting Angle

My first shot was pretty abysmal. The angle was awkward and one that is better suited to food photography (my other passion!). The 45 degree angle to my subjects allowed all the details to spill into the scene, which made it hard to hone in on my subject. To remedy this, I quietly inched closer to the bed and elevated my LCD screen so I could shoot directly down on them. This isolated my daughter and Charlie the cat who were getting ready to snuggle into a new position under her arm.

2. Aperture

I was shooting at f/1.4 for both images, but in the first image it is not working. I love shooting with a wide open, shallow aperture, but it is not a good choice for an angled shot. I was so wrapped up in not waking my daughter that my focus fell on her arm in the first shot. Charlie was all over the place which didn’t help. By shooting from above and waiting until the cat hunkered down next to her, I was able to keep more of both subjects in focus by keeping them on the same focal plane.

3. Filling the Frame

My first shot was much too far away with too many distractions, like the dirty windowsill and her white bed. I moved a little closer as I took my overhead shot. There were still some distractions, but I took care of those in post processing.

4. Silent Shutter

I had no idea how amazing a silent shutter is to documentary photography until I started using it! I was able to regroup and analyze the seen without one sound. This kept the cat relatively oblivious to me, or at least I wasn’t interesting enough to distract him.

5. Waiting

This is the hard part. I had to wait while Charlie situated himself repeatedly as I held the camera overhead. Then I took several frames, varying my focus point so I could choose the best one. Charlie’s tail is very expressive and is often puffed out and twitchy. I was very excited when he stared to curl it around his body. One of my attempts resulted in the tail balancing with the curve of my daughter sleeping. Patience is a virtue!

6. Light

This is the hardest part when trying to document a scene. A black cat, low morning light, and multiple patterns converging all equal a mess if the light isn’t right. I needed some directional light to isolate my subjects, but that proved hard to do. I watched for where the highlights were falling and realized that I would have to work with what I was given. Overhead shooting was the best choice in this situation, since her face was turned toward the window.

7. Processing

My white balance was atrocious! I think I was shooting on cloudy white balance, but the cool morning light was simply too blue. I used color curves in the Tone Curve panel in Lightroom to warm up the scene. Dodge and burn were my next processes to enhance the light that was already there and to separate the highlights from the shadows. Burning also helped me to block out the bed details that pulled my eye to the top of the frame. Dodging helped to separate the highlights in her hair and Charlie’s fur, too. Finally, I used the HSL panel to push the colors from a cool to warm range. The duvet is actually pink, but I made it a rich tomato red to play off the black fur. The last step was to apply a thin layer of my painterly processing to add whimsy to the scene.

Final photo taken after changes:

photo of a young girl taking a nap with her black cat by Caroline Jensen

 

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