Low Light Photography


Low light photography does not always require flash. This photo was taken as part of a series documenting Christmas decor at The Telfair Museum of Art here in Savannah. TAG (Telfair Academy Guild) supports the museum with fund-raising events along with other functions such as decorating for the holidays.

This photo depicts faux bread just after it was taken out of an old brick oven. The limited lighting in the room was provided by LED spots. I chose to use available light with my camera on a tripod and shot at ISO 200 at f7.1 at 1/2 sec. A flash with a CTO gel was used to give the appearance of  a fire in the oven.

All photos copyright Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014



It is not that long ago that manual focus was standard on all cameras. Today’s cameras have an auto focus function that is usually more accurate than manual focus. Focusing either manually or with autofocus can get tricky when you are in low light situations – like I recently was Halloween night.

A couple of tips make focusing in low light easier and more precise. First, it may take the camera a little longer than normal to focus in low light situations. Looking through the viewfinder, you may see the subject go out of focus before it comes back in focus. With my Nikon D800, this takes less than a second. If you were to push the shutter before sharp focus occurs, a blurry photo is the result. Secondly, use the fastest lens you can. I was using a 24-70 mm zoom with an f-stop of 2.8. My 28-300 mm lens has a variable f-stop from 3.5 at 28 mm to 5.6 at 300 mm. This lens will not focus as well in low light conditions as the f 2.8 lens.

A Profoto B1 monolight with a beauty dish was my primary light source. Once it got dark, I had to rely on the autofocus in my camera – in many cases I could not see well enough to manually focus the lens. An alternative would have been to use a continuous video light to make focusing easier (even shining a flashlight on the subject would work).

These are a few of the photos taken Halloween. The photo at the beginning of this blog was the very dramatic and depicts the Halloween mood well.  The last photo in group 3 shows great expression – “it is time for a meltdown.” The best way to view the photos is to click on an icon and advance with the arrow key. The NexGen Gallery only holds 20 photos, so you have to back out and click on the next group.

Any Trick or Treaters who did not receive their photo by email should send an email to me at info@danbiggerstaff.com to remedy the situation. Enjoy!

All photos copyright Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014

Projects and Events


To maintain and improve skills of any kind requires practice. In photography, this means taking lots of photographs on a regular basis. Being your own critic is of utmost importance as is having outside portfolio review; we all have certain attachments to photos which interfere with objectivity. Most pro photographers set up personal projects to improve skills. Not all of the photos in these projects will be portfolio quality, but a few may be.

Local events can provide a rich source of subjects for photographs. Several I recently photographed in Savannah include The Telfair Art Museum’s “Rooms with a View”, Isle of Hope’s “Art and Music Festival,” and SCAD’s “Film Festival” – all within a 3-day period of time.

Telfair’s “Rooms with a View” evolved from a previous annual event called The Artful Table. This is one of many events to raise money to support the museum. Eight foot by eight foot walled venues were constructed in The Jepson Center for the Arts and decorated and furnished by local designers, with the exception of the speakers for the event. The guest speakers at this event were Phoebe and Jim Howard, nationally recognized designers from Jacksonville, Florida. The opening preview party offered attendees a first-look at the venues, in addition to delicious food and drink furnished by local restaurants. A good time was had by all, including me, the photographer. These photographs are of the venues, along with their designers, and of the set-up and the party.


Isle of Hope’s “Art and Music Festival” has become an annual event that attracts hundreds of locals to see and purchase local art, eat good food, and hear good music. It starts at 10 AM of Saturday and runs until 10 PM that night. We were fortunate to have great weather in a beautiful local setting. The photos highlight the event with a few views of the location, the visitors, and some of the artists.


The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Film Festival is “filled with cinematic creativity from both award-winning professionals and emerging student filmmakers. Each year more than 40,000 people attend the eight day Savannah Film Festival. The festival is host to a wide variety of competition film screenings, special screenings, workshops, panels, and lectures.” These photographs are from the 2014 Opening Night in front of The Trustees Theater on Broughton Street.

All photos copyright  Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014



Travel photos can be easy or a challenge. My wife and I were fortunate to recently go to northern Scotland, a destination to which we had not previously traveled. In writing this blog, my initial plan was to describe history and details about the locations, etc. Since this is a photography blog, I thought this would be BORING.  This is an abbreviated account of the trip. By the way, over time I will be printing and framing select photos from the trip to hang in my office and make available for sale. Come by and take a look.

The first few shots were street scenes in Inverness where the trip began. The River Ness can be seen in several. The river is connected with a series of locks to the Loch Ness, the home of the famed Monster. Just for fun, I took a double exposure (in the camera, not manipulated in Photoshop) of ornamental branches decorated with holiday lights superimposed over bottles of scotch whisky on glass shelves; the location was a restaurant where we had lunch. The best way to see the photos is to click on the first and use the “right arrow” to view at your own pace. If a gallery contains more than 20 photos, close the last photo and go to the next section in the gallery – a little bit of trouble but worth the effort.

The Lord of the Glens, a small passenger ship was our home for the next part of the journey. At the end of Loch Ness, our next overnight stop was in Fort Augustus. Then, we sailed through Loch Lochy, south of Loch Ness, before going into the North Sea with stops in the Inner Hebrides, islands off of the northwest coast of Scotland. The photos show the scenery as we passed, as well as other passengers and crew on board the ship, and a few local animals. We docked every night affording opportunities to see local attractions. Some destinations did not have facilities to dock, in which cases we rode local ferries.

Comments about a few of the photos: One photo is taken from the interior of the ship looking out into Loch Ness. The next is of Castle Urquhart, a favorite spot for Nessie sightings. One of the crew celebrated his birthday during the trip and got kisses from two of his attractive crew-mates. At one of the many castles we saw, a group of children were playing, and I could not resist a photo of this darling. The photo of a man cutting the grass is boring except for the fact that he had on a tie. Pictures of food (this of a delicious dessert on board ship) can always add interest to documentation of travel. I had to include a photo of a scotch whisky distillery in Scotland. A couple of things about scotch – the first is that it is called whisky and not scotch in the British Isles. The second is that it is enjoyed with just a wee bit of distilled water added and not over ice.

Comments about travel photography: it is hard to travel with and use off-camera lighting such as big studio strobes, and photos taken with popup flash usually look like a flash picture – not desirable. The best alternative is to use available light which means having a camera with a high speed sensor (I shot some photos at ISO 6400) and/or having a light-weight tripod. Another concern when doing travel photography is what lenses to bring. On a trip a few years ago, my photo backpack weighed 45 pounds – I will never do that again. A mentor of mine, Jay Maisel, famously states “the more lenses you have, the fewer pictures you will take.” On this trip, I had a 27-300 mm f3.5-5.6 lens and a 45 mm f2.8 tilt-shift lens. I used the second lens very little.

Back to comments about photos: some photos should document location. The Old Forge Inn in Inverie is the remotest pub and restaurant on the British mainland. Marshall and a number of other passengers (including me) on the ship enjoyed the refreshments and comradery the inn had to offer. The only way to and from the location is by boat or a 16 mile hike from Kinlochourn. The only photo in this series I did not take was one of me and my wife when I asked a passerby to take the photo. On the next leg of the trip, a Viking Longboat from Denmark crossed our bow.  Then, the trip onboard the ship was celebrated with a farewell dinner. We were served haggis; the rest of the meal was delicious. If you are not familiar with haggis, it is a combination of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with onion, oatmeal, and a few other ingredients that is encased into the stomach and cooked for several hours. The photo with the knife shows it being sliced in a celebratory fashion to serve at our dinner.

A photo taken in a restaurant in Edinburgh shows the beginning of the last leg of the trip. There are a number of photos of the famed Edinburgh Castle, both from a distance and on the castle grounds. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual celebration of music and entertainment that brings together thousands of people from all over the world with no lack of pomp and ceremony. It concludes with a phenomenal fireworks display. The remaining photos were taken in Edinburgh, including the one of the bow of The Royal Yacht Britannia, shot through a “porthole.” Enjoy!

All photos copyright  Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014


A blog post long overdue. It has been a busy summer since I attended the Greg Heisler workshop. Mom passed in late July; and many photo shoots, and the needed editing, have occupied my time. In order to maintain or improve a level of proficiency, we must practice whatever we are doing, whether it be taking photographs, cooking, or playing football. I take lots of photographs to continue/improve my skills as a photographer.

Savannah Fashion Night was on September 4, an annual event in which Broughton Street is blocked off from Drayton to Montgomery Streets – runways for fashion shows were set up at each of these ends of Broughton. The stores along the street were open late and had much of their merchandise on sale for the event. Many local retailers, including two car dealerships, promoted their products along the route.

Art Rise Savannah is a non-profit organization that promotes local art and art education. Their venue was at the corner of Broughton and Barnard Streets. Throughout the evening, models posed so onlookers could try their hands at sketching, with assistance from the Art Rise volunteers. They even had a setup for those who wanted to foot paint.

These are a few of the hundreds of photos I took that evening. Many of the photos were taken with ambient light, except for those taken during the runway show. In low-light conditions, a monopod and a high ISO helped this style of street shooting. FYI, street shooting most of the time is more like photo journalism than fine art photography. The weather was warm and muggy, and a short 10-minute shower sent everyone scampering for cover. The runways for the fashion shows were wet which caused many of the models to go bare-footed during the shows. A group of SCAD students from Brazil asked if I would take their photos; also included are a few taken of the people on the street. Enjoy!

The best way to view the photos is to click on the first thumbnail and scroll through the rest.

All photos copyright  Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014


Making the lighting of a subject look like it is coming from lights in the scene is a phrase used in the film industry and is called “motivating the practical.” Another form of lighting is to create a desired effect just for the sake of lighting the subject in a certain way. The worst type of lighting for photographs is on-camera flash which gives the classic “deer in the headlights” look. If you are using electronic flash, get the source off of the camera.

I recently attended a photography workshop conducted by Gregory Heisler. An on-line search of Mr. Heisler will result in numerous links, well worth your time for those interested in portrait photography. His work is amazing! Purchasing a copy of his book, 50 Portraits, is a small investment for the wealth of information you will receive. In addition to the amazing photographs, he provides interesting personal information about his famous subjects and thoughts on technique in each photo.

Greg was the one who introduced the phrase “motivating the practical” to me. Other concepts he promotes in photography include trying not to take the same photograph twice, whether it is one of his own or one that he has seen before. In fact, the only photographs he has on the walls of his studio and home are those of his girls. Once he has taken a photograph, he moves on to something else. When taking a photograph, he frequently frames the picture in the camera and then composes the content.

The light source(s) for a photograph can be divided into continuous and flash. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The scope of this blog does not allow a detailed discussion of lighting, but continuous light sources allow you to see what you are getting. On the other hand, flash may emit a stronger light and is able to freeze motion. You may have to click on View Images at the bottom of the page to see these photos.

This photograph was taken using a tungsten bulb in an inexpensive reflector ($7.95) placed on the old-fashioned stove in front of the model. Our assignment was to photograph our model as an artist, musician, or writer. With my passion for cooking, the model was portrayed as a chef for a magazine cover.



The lighting for this scene was ambient light coming through the door behind the model, along with a two-bulb fluorescent fixture purchased a local home-supply store. The vertical fluorescent bulbs were on a stand to the left of the model.



Rules are meant to be broken, so I did in this photo. The location for the shoot was a deserted power plant. The subject in this photo was a friend of a model who was on location at the shoot. I asked if she would mind being photographed, and she graciously agreed. At this point, my group was having technical difficulties with our studio flash, so I put the SB910 flash on my camera with a modifier called a RoundFlash. The RoundFlash effectively converts an on-camera flash to a ring light. This light is best used as a fill light, but I chose to use it as the primary light source in this photo.

Power Plant-001


The last photo was taken on the second floor of a federal penitentiary that was closed many years ago. A gelled-studio strobe was on the first floor angled up to create the shadow of the bars and of the model on the ceiling. The camera was hand-held, and two images were made on the same frame in the camera. I envisioned this image on the cover of a CD album for a rock star. This “look” is not something I typically shoot but was just having fun.


All photos copyright  Dan Biggerstaff Photography. All rights reserved © 2014

Need A Camera To Take A Photo

I cannot count the number of times I have seen a photo but did not have my camera – no photograph.  One of my mentors, Jay Maisel, always has his camera. A friend of his and also very well know photographer, Gregory Heisler, on the other hand frequently does not have his camera unless he is involved in a shoot. Gregory’s thought process is that he cannot enjoy the moment (like children growing up) if he is always looking for a shot. I agree with both approaches and often have difficulty deciding which is best.

A friend of mine, Vince Lucente, invited me and several others to go fishing at Edisto Beach (SC) this weekend. A great time was had by all. I did take my camera when we went out for a drink (first photo) before a sunset cruise (second photo) and then the next morning when we went fishing (other photos). By the way, the Bull Red (fish) was put back into the water after photos. At a point, Vince asked me if I was having fun – maybe (or not) I will leave the camera in the bag for our next fishing trip.








Purpose of a Photograph

We take photographs for many different reasons. If the photo is for commercial purposes, the “look” will be different than ones taken for documentary or art or editorial purposes. These two photographs were the selections from hundreds to be used as advertisements for a hair and styling salon.

Monica McMasters owns B Street Salon here in Savannah and needed photos to make vertical banners for a trade show. Monica was a stylist for Paul Mitchell in California and brought her talents with her when she moved back to her home in Savannah. Her husband, John, did the graphic design for the banners. Professional models from Halo were used for the shoot, and Monica and her B Street team did the hair and makeup.

The shoot was done in studio with a Nikon D800 and a 24-70mm f2.8 lens. A white backdrop was chosen to give a clean look, and a 30” beauty dish served as the main light.  Profoto D1 1000ws strobes were used for lighting.



Benefits of Photography

What photography can do is limitless, for both the photographer and the viewer of the photographs. The obvious thing it does is to capture the moment, whether an abstract, a beautiful landscape, a portrait, or whatever.  A photograph may be a true work of art that gives its viewers the things art can provide.  Photography can occupy time (whether it is a hobby or a profession), can be therapeutic for the onlooker or the person behind the camera, can give pleasure or pain, and can elicit the gamut of emotions.

Recently, I was invited to attend and take candid photographs at a rehearsal for The Savannah Children’s Choir.  The Choir is community-based, represents many ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and provides its children an opportunity to participate in activities with many benefits beyond the song (go to www.savannahchoir.org).  Over 80 children from the 2nd through 7th grades were at the rehearsal.  I was floored with what I heard and saw. (I have attended a couple of their concerts prior to the rehearsal which were wonderful.) Emmy Williams, Director of Education, conducted the rehearsals with the support of a number of other adults.  The children were well-behaved, noticeably had fun, and sounded great, as Ms. Williams guided them through the practice – all, while they are learning.  If most of our teachers had the obvious expertise and commitment that she does, America would be at the top of all education lists.

You may be reading asking yourself “what does this have to do with photography?” Photography enabled me to observe something very special I would have otherwise not seen.  I was given a gift. These are photographs of one of the younger and one of the older members of the choir.

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Importance of Printing

Most of the millions of photographs taken daily never see the print side of paper or canvas.  It is so easy to view photos on the many digital devices most of us have; but, are we missing something? My answer to that is an overwhelming yes! I would take it a step further and say the best of the photos should not only be printed but should also be framed, or at least put in a photo album or maybe even published in a book.  Online publishers, such as Blurb.com and others, make it easy and affordable to publish your photos in a book.

Let’s say you want to print and frame a group of photos.  My advice is to go to a local photography store and work with whomever is doing the printing. Here is Savannah my favorite is Peter at Worldwide Camera, who has the expertise to make the photos “pop” when printed. He is also really good with Photoshop and is willing to work with you to do the editing you need.

The next part of the project is to have the photos framed. I have chosen to get my frames online at American Frame.  There are many other reputable companies but I have gotten good results from this company.  You choose the size(s), the specific frame(s), the glass, mat board, and the mounting board.  You have to then frame the photograph which takes a little work but saves about 50% over taking the photo to a local framing store. If you are not interested in doing the framing, take the photo(s) to a local framing store.

Finally, make sure you hang the photos so you and others can enjoy your work.  This is a photo I took recently of a friend, had it Photoshopped and printed by Peter, and is waiting to be framed. Can’t wait to see the final result.  The print is gorgeous!