Let’s get started with our Q&A! Thank you for all your questions, many of you have been waiting for some tips and tricks from us so we are excited to finally be able to give you some. We have come to understand that our way of working may be a bit hard to grasp. We are truly working as a team and the two of us have developed a common way of expressing ourselves with images and visions through the years. Nathalie is the stylist, she is the master of gathering inspiration, writing texts, and she always has her mind full of ideas and projects for BIB. Matilda is the photographer and a creator who can produce almost anything. She takes the photos and makes the videos for BIB, and gives a personal touch to our photos with her delicate editing. We both take photos for our Instagram but Matilda is always the one editing them, which is something that is not always transparent. For us, Babes in Boyland is a team, and we are always both present and involved in what we are doing. Since this Q&A is mainly about photography, equipment and editing, Matilda will be answering your questions. We hope you will enjoy!
What camera and lens do you use? Do you use a tripod? I have a Nikon D800 with a few different lenses, depending on the photoshoot. My favourite lens for BIB is my 50 mm, but I just received the Nikon 58 mm which is a bit particular, and I’m really looking forward to working with it in the future. What I like about these lenses is their light sensitivity, angle of view, natural depth and the distance I can work from when taking the photos. When we take photos for Instagram we use our phone cameras, but this year we have also started posting about out blog posts on Instagram, with DSLR photos from the blog.
I only use a tripod when I have to. For the kind of photography we usually do it’s more of a restriction than a tool. I like to be able to move and sneak around on the locations we are shooting. But tripods are great tools and can be really helpful, for example when it is a bit too dark and you want a small aperture when taking photos of interiors or for stability in still life photography. I use a monopod for stability sometimes when I make videos.
How do you edit your photos and get that poetic, dark feeling? I am the kind of photographer who also loves photo processing and working with the photos in my computer, and I get a bit carried away when talking about this. That being said, I always take the photos in RAW format and edit them from scratch in Lightroom. Photos taken in RAW-format, unlike JPEG, are not compressed in the camera. When you like dark photos it is important that the file contains as much information as possible for the editing process.
The first thing I do is some basics: I adjust the white balance, highlights/shadows, white/black points, and maybe the photo needs to be cropped or straightened. Then I have some different presets that I use, depending on what we want to achieve with the photo. The presets contain different settings for colours, split toning (warm/cool tone in highlights/shadows), effects (grain and vignetting) and colour profiles. There is an abundance of different presets to download and experiment with to find your own style. I think it’s important to try different settings and to not just add a preset to your photo and stop there. The result are often not great, nor very interesting. However, I think VSCO have really nice presets. They also have an app which I use for editing the mobile phone pictures, but more on that in another question. :)
How do you feel about shadows and natural light? How do you like the shadows to fall and how do you work with that? That depends what feeling you want the photo to bring and what you are taking a photo of. Strong light or harsh sunlight gives sharp contrasts and shadows and can be really powerful and beautiful in itself. It often gives a dramatic and strong look. But when we are taking photos of food or still life we usually want a reflecting light source that gives soft shadows and a milder tone to the picture.
Can you pick a photo and show us the settings and the whole editing process (like the aperture, ISO, shutter, how you get your look in the editing program)? Sure! Here we go.
Nikon D800 + 50mm f/1.4 G
f/2.2, 1/100, ISO 800
1. First, I increase the exposure + 0,20. A bit underexposed and I needed some extra light, but not too much since I want to keep the dark areas and I don’t want the highlights to burn out.
2. In the white balance settings, I lower the temperature from 4900 to 4850, and increase the colour tone by two units from + 11 to + 13. (Yes, details!) I can see on neutral areas, on the towel and on the wall that the photo is a bit too yellow and green.
3. I go to defringe in lens correction, and increase the amount on both purple and green hue until the details are nice without any color fringe. I zoomed in to 1:2 and saw that there was some pink in the flour and some blue/green on the edge of the small plate. This is something that can really bug me in a photo so I always check this and make sure that any adjustments that are needed are done.
4. When I’m happy with this I move on to my presets. This time I choose one that gives the shadow a dark blue tone. A split toning setting. I have a few different presets that I choose from depending on the character of the photo and what feeling I want the photo to have. In my presets I have also adjusted sharpening, grain, vignetting and lens corrections since I like these settings quite similar in all my photos, and this saves me a lot of time.
5. I move on to tone and lighten the shadows +15 and blacks +10, and I lower the highlights -5. I think that the dark areas got a bit too heavy and that the flour/sugar lost some details.
6. I am starting to feel satisfied, but I think the hand is a bit too orange, and that the area in the towel and the shadow in the bowl + along the wall still are a bit too green/yellow. I go to colour and lower the saturation for orange -10 and for green -10. I don’t want to make too big changes here since these colour adjustments change the colour in the entire photo.
7. I take the brush and make effect masks for areas in the bowl, on the towel and on the wall. I lower the saturation and adjust the temp and tint until I’m happy with the result. I make some different masks with different effects since the areas don’t look the same and don’t have the same needs.
8. The last thing (could have been my first) I do before I export is to take out the clone and heal brush. Nathalie made some stains on the wall that I find disturbing, so I clean them off. ;)
9. Now I export the photo. I have created some presets for this depending on what we are doing with the photo. For this one I choose a preset I adapted for photos that are going on the blog.
How do you get your wonderful consistency through everything? Isn’t it hard to always get the same “look n feel”? I think a big part of it is developing a visual style with a common feature. For example, when you edit a lot of photos it’s great to be able to get an overview of all the photos. Lightroom is great in that way, and so is the VSCO-app for phone pictures. When you have finished editing you can make sure that there is consistency throughout. The selection of photos is also important both for Instagram and for the blog. We usually select the photos together, which makes us think twice about everything. What is missing in our feed? What type of photo would fill a void? Variation makes a dynamic feed and coherent editing is important for recognition.
Do you take the photos on your Instagram with your phones or with a system camera? If you take them with your phones, how do you edit them? In an app? We both take photos for Instagram with our phones. For the blog and for different jobs Matilda takes photos with her system camera. This year we started posting some photos from the blog on our Instagram to announce the blog posts. We are excited to bring some extra spotlight on the blog! Matilda has the VSCO-app for editing phone pictures.
What preset and editing program are you using? Where do you find inspiration in your photos? Lightroom and VSCO for DSLR and the app for phone pictures. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for blog posts and different types of jobs. We create hidden folders that work like moodboards and that are inspirational sources for our work. We are also very inspired by each other, nature and seasons, creative people in our surroundings, movies and music.
I was wondering how much external light you add when you take photos. Do you have a light and filter that looks like daylight? We work with natural light and never use external lights, even though I have some. It has worked out fine so far, as long as you plan ahead. During winter you need to keep in mind that the light conditions are more difficult. Living in the southern half of Sweden, at least we have a few hours of light even during the darkest period of the year.
I was wondering if you have any “golden rules” on composition and light..? Absolutely. When I use my camera I always find balance in the composition and in the photo without even thinking about it, and it’s something that comes with practice. But I don’t think it is necessarily that complicated – you just need to find some dynamics in the picture. Then you need to find some components or elements that diverge and make an interesting photo. It can be really difficult to point out just what is interesting about a photo, since it is often something that affects you personally. Sometimes it’s a subject, or a detail in the photo, sometimes it’s simply magical light. Both of us are designers and are probably particularly sensitive for all these kinds of details.
I understand none of you have studied to become photographers, and I haven’t either. But I take a lot of photos! And you don’t really need a diploma to call yourself a photographer. When did you feel comfortable calling yourselves photographers? Did it come with a special occasion or success or did you start doing it when you started the blog? I never attended any pure training programs for photographers, but I took a lot of classes that were very useful to me in photography, photo processing, visual communication and video production, and that is something I can really recommend! It was a lot of fun and I think also very important to learn from others, even though you can learn almost anything on your own today. Photography became part of my job when I was working as a designer/creator for a communication agency and from then on it became part of my profession. That was a few years before we started the blog. But who is not a photographer today? I think we all are, with or without diplomas. :) Not everybody needs to make it their profession, and maybe that’s when we feel the sincerest in calling ourselves photographers?
Do you work with photo/styling full time? Or do you have other jobs as well? Right now we have other jobs too. Nathalie is a communicator and Matilda is a freelance photographer and social video maker. This has been the situation since we started (though we have recently been on parental leave for some time). In the future, we want Babes in Boyland to expand in different ways, and we have a goal to extend our activity and to organize retreats/workshops, a goal that will become reality this spring.
How do you make your photos so crisp and sharp? Do you use a tripod? Steady hands and body, neat exposures and considerate photo processing is probably part of the recipe. ;) I avoid tripods if I can.
Do you live together or are you friends/colleagues who meet a lot and work together? Sometimes it probably looks like we are living together and have about a hundred old beautiful houses, haha! But that’s actually not the case. We are friends and colleagues. And what probably made things even more confusing is that we managed to have our babies at the exact same time (three days apart). This year will be an exciting year for us, with new projects for work. And soon we will also be back in the same town when Matilda and her family move back to Västerås.
Do you have any advice on a good camera? Or what should you keep in mind when choosing a camera? It’s a hard question to answer because it depends on a lot of different things. You should think about what you want to use the camera for. Are you using it for professional work or is photography a hobby for you? This also gives you an indication on the price range: if you are not using it for professional work you don’t need to buy the most advanced and the most expensive equipment. After deciding this, you can look at the details. Are there special options you need? WiFi? Good video recording? Easy to carry around? Answering this you can focus on special characteristics of the camera. If you were to choose a system camera you also need to choose a lens. Standard lenses that are included with the bodies in the lower price ranges are quite boring to work with, but if photography is only a hobby it can cover your needs. I take this opportunity to, once again, promote a fixed 50 mm lens with a large aperture. It makes it possible to skip the flash when it gets darker, you skip the zooming, and you can experiment and be more creative in your photographing.
And, what are your top 5 tips for better photos?
1. Set the exposure initially – this is extra important with phone pictures (tap a bright or dark area in camera mode and adjust the exposure in the settings)
2. Pay attention to the white balance – it needs to be adjusted in almost every photo
3. Pay attention to new subjects – when you make photography part of your everyday life you see exciting subjects everywhere
4. Compose your photo in the viewfinder – dynamics, harmony and balance are more important than you might think
5. Find your own editing style – stick to it and develop it through the years
I was also wondering how you choose the photos for your feed? We agree that it is easier said than done to “kill your darlings”. ;) But sometimes you really need to. You just have to convince yourself that you will use that photo later, haha. Being a duo is kind of an asset here, we choose the photos together and really discuss the choices we make. When we shoot a job we make the selection right away, since Nathalie, as a stylist, has a pretty clear idea about the layout and setup it is easier to decide “what we need”. For longer posts Matilda who has taken the photos usually makes a first selection and then we work our way to the final selection together, removing some photos and adding some. We both choose photos for our Instagram feed and we both feel what we think it needs. We have simply grown to become a really dynamic duo.