I'm dying to know how to take photos like this http://www.shannonleemiller.com/. I'm not talking composition. I'm talking exposure, color, style.

I know she has a 5D Mark II, and typically uses 35mm or 85mm. I notice she uses spot metering a lot.

So what are your suggestions to get images like that?

I have a Canon 7D and a 24-105mm L USM lens.

EDIT: This would be a specific example http://shannonleemillerphotography.22slides.com/content/1504_image_143854.jpg

  • \$\begingroup\$ It would probably help if you gave one specific example. From the portfolio page, she seems to have some general trends, but there's still a lot of variation in the photos. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ example added above \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 0:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tend to: Oversaturate. / Edge colour balance towards slightly yellow / Use large apertures / Consider using post processing to defocus backgrounds / centralise characters in frame horizontally more than usual / Take photos mainly of women / ...|| With your stated lens use it at 105mm end of range. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 3:44

3 Answers 3



Luckily you don't need to drag round a full set of Profotos and car batteries to get this look, natural light is all you need. Shoot late in the day when the sun is low in the sky. This gives you a softer light, with natural fill, warmer colours and makes it easier to blow out (overexpose) the background and/or provide lots of highlights for great bokeh.

Shoot into the sun, or very close to the sun, paying attention to the way the light will be coming through the subjects hair.


Get close - don't crop. The shots in the "portfolio" section were not cropped in post. How do I know this? The depth of field. The use of a wideangle lens in this shot evident from the foreshortening (or lack thereof). As you go wider the hyperfocal distance (distance at which depth of field attains a maximum) gets closer. This means you have to focus even closer to avoid having everything in focus, which in turn means your subject has to be closer (to be in focus).

Cropping in post v.s. using a longer lens at the same aperture always increases depth of field. Shallow DOF is a big part of the look.


Here's the bad news. I'm afraid f/4 on a 7D just isn't going to cut it, DOF wise. The image you posted was shot at 35mm f/1.8 on a full frame camera. To match the field of view and framing with an APS-C body you'll need a 22mm f/1.1 which is almost four stops wider than your 24-105 is capable of.

The closest you can get is a Sigma 20 f/1.8 which is over a stop slower and not great optically (compared to the 35 f/1.4L on full frame). I would actually recommend a Sigma 30 f/1.4 as it's designed for APS-C and is actually sharp. Or you could pick up a used 5D markI and 35 f/2 lens. Or you could keep your existing gear and develop your own style that doesn't revolve around shallow depth of field.


Nothing major here, can be done in camera or during RAW conversion. Basically you want a very warm colour balance, slight desaturation and don't correct for the lack of contrast you get by shooting into the sun.


A final advisory regarding viewing portfolios online. Anyone who shoots a lot of photos will come up with one amazing shot per year, regardless of their skill level. Apply this to a 20 year career and you get a portfolio of 20 outstanding shots. What you wont see is all the times the lighting was crap and the photos came out very mediocre. So don't lose heart of you can't get the results you want straight away!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Matt I think that you just explained my two outstanding shots. And I thought that my talent was finally blooming :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Nov 1, 2012 at 12:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the portfolios. Most people don't realize a 20 shot portfolio is just that, and taken from years of shooting and many, many mediocre attempts. I always try to find a complete shoot if possible to really get a good idea, but this isn't always possible unless you are the paying client. Also - your point about needing a 22 f/1.1 is exactly why I'm selling my APS-C in favor of FF, I can't get shots with this narrow dof/angle of view like I want! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 1, 2012 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re. portfolios: I work by the 85-13-2 rule: 85% of what I shoot is crap, 13% of it is serviceable and 2% is very good or excellent. Your numbers may vary, but the 85 is usually pretty close. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blrfl
    Nov 1, 2012 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. I might add that a reflector is useful for lighting the subject's front when shooting into the sun. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 14:26

I don't see anything specific that really jumps out as "her style". She typically uses very wide apertures and the images display great bokeh.

Many of the images are shot with natural light highlighting the hair of the subject from behind. The faces are very softly lit, likely with off camera lighting such as a shoot through umbrella or softbox.

Seeing your equipment, you would probably need at least a 50mm f/1.4 or 85mm f/1.8 to attempt images similar to this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ After reading through her facebook page, she mentions she doesn't use any other light sources other than natural lighting. So you're saying it's mostly down to equipment and not something else such as settings (which I read her camera raw data for that image so I know what she used)? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 0:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ She could be using a reflector for fill light. I know a lot of photographers that say they are "natural light photographers", and for the most part that is either 1. Marketing speak or 2. A hint that they don't know how to use off camera flash :) I don't think she uses any magical settings, just a wide aperture, proper exposure, good high quality lenses, and proper post production. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 1, 2012 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well I guess that sounds fair. Thanks for your input. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2012 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's not a lot else, really. Backlight, use a reflector for fill if natural reflections or overcast can't do the job, expose for high key on the subject, allow the unimportant background highlights to blow out (step away from the histogram!!) and you're there in-camera. The rest is post (even if "post" means a conversion primarily done in-camera—some cameras will let you import custom settings for contrast and saturation, others may have suitable settings built in). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Nov 1, 2012 at 4:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've shot plenty of images in those conditions and you don't need any sort of reflector, the ground/trees around add plenty of fill light, especially if you shoot late in the day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 1, 2012 at 9:40

I'm in love with this style too. Low apertures between f/1.4-2.8 and sunshine at the later hours otherwise shooting in shade or on cloudy days. I'm almost positive that the editing is with VSCO but with that said I have tried these methods and I don't get these results. One thing for sure is to lower the exposure & then use contrast & rich oranges & warmer tones. I think the better question is how to do great film edits.


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