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Just before Thanksgiving I ordered and received my dSLR – it’s a Canon Rebel XSi with the 18-55mm kit lens and a Tamron 70-300mm to allow more zoom. (Don’t get me started about how I got screwed on the Tamron lens; I’ll just say this, check reviews about whatever online retailer you deal with for photo equipment. There are some real scammers out there.)

Anyway… I went back and forth a lot before deciding on this camera. I researched and read for months beforehand, I went to the local Best Buy to touch and hold the Canon and Nikon models they had available. I think the Nikon 60d was on display at the time. The Canon just felt better in my hand and the buttons/menus made more sense to me, primarily because they were so similar to the S3IS. It wasn’t an easy choice because you have to know going in that whatever you decide, you’ll basically be *stuck* with since lenses and filters are generally specific to one brand or the other.  I had read the Nikon’s lenses are higher quality, but, I won’t lie, the price difference was considerable and scary. So, Canon won out and has since won my heart. I have no complaints or regrets with my choice.

On December 5th I had the opportunity to test out the new camera on a couple whom I did not know. My friend Valerie had referred them to me as a possibly inexpensive way to get some engagement photos taken. I was eager to practice, and they – being college students – were willing to be my test subjects.

Despite the cold weather, the day was perfect for a shoot. I came prepared – as much as possible – with a work light (no external flash or strobes yet), a large diffuser panel, and a trusty assistant (thanks, Valerie!) to help break the ice and be an extra pair of hands. What a pleasant surprise it was to meet Liz & Karl; they are just about the cutest couple I’ve ever met…so happy and in love. It was very sweet. They were totally comfortable with me, and I with them. Having spent the better part of a week going through flickr photos tagged for engagement, I had some ideas of how to pose them, and they complied as if reading my mind.

In about three hours we took over 300 pictures, and that was after having gone through the memory card of images several times to get rid of ones that were obvious deletes (eyes closed, poor focus, etc.).  Even though it was a free shoot and I spent weeks processing the images, the reward came from them being so happy with the photographs, and even using three of them on their holiday Christmas card. It made me smile just knowing I had taken them.

Lessons learned from this shoot:

  • One 4GB memory card is not enough when shooting engagement pictures – or probably any shoot over an hour or so in length. And it takes way too much time to go through the images in camera and try to delete some to make space…especially in December/winter!
  • Talking with clients and having something in mind before the shoot definitely makes a difference. Within the first hour, it was as if we were old friends, and they were snuggling and kissing each other as if I wasn’t even there. It totally made a difference in the pictures, I’m sure of it.
  • A heavy duty work light provides a decent amount of heat when taking pictures outside when it’s quite cold, provided you can find a place to plug it in.
  • Let your clients express themselves and add input to the poses; these two were great with coming up with ideas to stay away from the same, monotonous poses.
  • Including pets in the portraits – i.e. 3 rather large, rambunctious dogs – is really just not. my. thing. Those of you who do, I bow to thee.
  • Almost-kissy-pictures turn out better than kissy-pictures. There’s something about that moment of anticipation before lips touch that really comes out in a photograph. Once the kiss is complete, well…so is the moment.
  • RAW is your friend, BUT! There’s gotta be a better workflow to going through 350 raw images…

I tried a lot of different things with them and we had a blast taking all these pictures.  My biggest problem was how to process them once I got them downloaded from my camera. It was very overwhelming; especially for someone who knew about half of what she needed to with respect to processing and converting raw images to jpgs. Shew! I didn’t know if I’d ever get finished. Truth be told…I still haven’t finished one of the concept composite images from this shoot. Might have to have another go at that since my Photoshop skills have improved a bit since then.