Pixel Peeping: A Technical Look into an Emmaus Location Image

Welcome to the first installment of Pixel Peeping, where photographer Robert Macaisa discusses Fr. Marc's location shoot at the beach! 

Welcome to the first installment of Pixel Peeping, where photographer Robert Macaisa discusses Fr. Marc's location shoot at the beach! 

Hi everyone! My name is Robert Macaisa and I am the photographer for Emmaus: The Nature of the Way. Welcome to Pixel Peeping, where I’ll walk you through some of the work we did for Emmaus, and how we did it! We’ll be doing this weekly, and while you might hear my voice soon, for now we’ll keep it simple, with text and images.

Here is our first image: one of Fr. Marc’s location images. This is a nice one to start with, as it is a super simple environmental portrait. When you take a step back, it tells the story it need to tell, but when you break it down – it’s uncomplicated. 

Fr. Marc, who considers himself a "hopeless romantic," took his location images at the beach. 

Fr. Marc, who considers himself a "hopeless romantic," took his location images at the beach. 

Let me take a step back first and clue you in on me. I’m pretty simplistic. I like breaking things down and simplifying rather than the opposite. When I started out as a photographer, everything was multi light and fill setup and full of pizzazz! But of course, the more problematic shoots came, and I realized I needed to simplify my process. I’m also a fix-a-problem-on-the-spot type of guy.

ANYWAYS…Back to the photos:

Fr. Marc is a bit of a romantic, so we wanted to capture that on camera, in a way that told his story without overselling it. Tastefully dramatic I guess, because he’s not quite over the top himself. Here’s the first thing — timing matters®. You’ll realize, especially with location portraits, that timing matters.

As an Angeleno — born and raised — you come to the beach expecting a hard sun and a cloudless sky. As you can see from Fr. Marc's photo, we didn’t have that. I had two thoughts running through my head: "Yes! A dramatic environment." and "No! Flat light. Damn it, no catch lights*."

*Catch lights – reflections of light sources in the eyes. It’s cloudy, direct light isn’t happening anywhere near us.

Shooting at the beach is a crapshoot in a number of ways. People, hard light, people, light skin, people, ocean spray, ocean spray, ocean spray. Let me stop here and beg you, don’t change your lenses without protection on the beach. Do it for the kids reading this blog post.

So, we went pretty compact here with what we had on the shoot. A flag or two, the camera, the single lens and the talent. Luckily for us, the beach was somewhat quiet. We did, however, have to mess around with our spots to ensure we had clear shots. Once we set up, then came the biggest challenge in the midst of fog and overcast skies — how do we set Fr. Marc off? With each set of images, there’s a tight and a wide. “Let’s get the tight first," I told myself. That’s what I should have said, but didn’t.

With the light so soft, we tried a few things. A couple of walks toward the water, switching the rose around, throwing things. None of it ended up working. So we simplified. Romantic looking longingly out in the ocean. But simplification here gave us a couple of wins.

Contrast was problem number one. I solved it by getting down and dirty and kneeling in the grass. Since we went with the 100mm lens, it doesn’t look exaggeratedly low, but it works here for a number of reasons.

The horizon was my biggest weapon here. I used it to separate his body from his head, and the two focal points. I had to play with it a bit to get the right balance here. Strategically, you end up with three visual cues and image areas. The sky, the ocean and the beach.

The beach isn’t perfect from all of us walking around it, which gives it texture. By timing the shots, I was able to set the roses off with the sea foam. Then his head, which most likely was the first or second thing you noticed in this image. Each level allows your eyes to take in different parts of the photo. Oh, and I shot at f/2.8. You’ll come to realize I do that a lot.

The biggest technical note from this image is exposing with sky and water. Since everything is at different exposure levels, the only way to come away without clipping highlights or losing shadows is to look at your highest highlight (area between the horizon and the clouds) and the lowest shadow (his jacket). Try to compromise between the two in terms of exposure. This is what the original ended up looking like, in terms of histogram:

Try to cram as much of the two as possible. You’ll give your super awesome retoucher more to work with. The tight was a lot simpler, it just took a bit of coaxing to get the right reaction. I cheated him looking toward the sky, rather than toward the horizon to get that tiny little bit of catchlight. All that we needed.

And that’s how you shoot on a beach. Simple right? Until you bring lights into the equation.


Camera: Canon 6D

Lens: Canon 100mm 2.8L Macro (love this thing)

Lighting: Mother Nature

Location: Dockweiler Beach. If you ever fly out of LAX, look down – you’ll be above our location.

Chris Yates