Photoshoot in a Parking Lot - The Importance of Light and Background

I am often asked questions and comments about my photography - what location, what camera, what settings, etc. The camera question aside (it's not about the camera, it's merely a tool of the user), I am happy to answer.

It's all about the light. The proper light for what you want to capture.

For portraits, I prefer the late afternoon / early evening light. Morning light works, too, but for some reason, if given the choice, most people prefer to have their photo taken in the afternoon.

Location - You don't have to go somewhere exotic or even scenic to get good portraits. It's all about the background and the light. I've shot great photos in my backyard, in my living room and in the driveway. My favorite photo of my daughter was shot in the early morning light in our driveway:
Her Senior Year
Notice the catch lights in her eyes - she was looking towards the morning sun, but not directly into the sun. I estimate the sun was 45 degrees from the plane of her stance. The background is a river birch tree and the side of my neighbor's house. Here's where having the proper equipment does make a difference - I used a 200mm lens at f/4. The wide open aperture coupled with the zoom blurs the background so you can't really tell you are looking at vinyl siding.

Some more examples - last week, I took portraits of some friends at the local park, in the parking lot.

Here's the set up, courtesy of my friend, Kellie. Not exactly Shang-gri-la! But the light was right, and I thought the background of prairie grasses would provide a nice canvas for these golden kids.

A few things to note:

  1. I had the kids stand on the parking spot berm. I did this to give them some height over the background of prairie grass and flowers.
  2. The light is not directly behind them, but slightly to their left.
  3. I am standing on a step stool because getting slightly above your subject will force them to look up slightly, which I find results in a more flattering pose. I take that step stool to most of my photo shoots because I am pretty short. It is a great tool for group shots, too.
Here is the resulting photo:

Even though that location worked, I wanted to capture more intense catch lights in their eyes, so I had them rotate 90 degrees to their right. The kids are in the shade and off in the distance there is enough light to add a nice sparkle to those blue eyes and illuminate their skin.
Note The Background

But I was not happy with the background of this photo. There were too many distracting elements, especially what I highlight in the following photo:
Note The Background
Call me picky, but I didn't like that (part of a water treatment plant) and the big blob of dark green above the girl's head.

I did "save" the photo by cropping some of the distracting elements away. I switched to a 8x10 aspect ratio and I find the result far more pleasing:

Some more favorites from this shoot:
Kids Sitting on the Parking Spot Berm. Sitting generally relaxes the subject for a nice casual look

Field of Love
Mom gets in the photo - in a Sea of Prairie Wildflowers - I used the step stool to eliminate the houses behind the flowers from the photo


20 Running Questions, Answered

I was recently profiled in my running club's monthly newsletter. I'm not quite sure how I was picked, but I had fun with the question and answer style format and consider it an honor to share it with you.

Twenty (or so) questions with Shirley LeMay
by Bruce Butler
I was pleased to have a chance talk to Shirley LeMay about her running exploits. Despite having zero involvement in sports during High school and college (was and still is a music nerd), she somehow found her way to hitting the pavement. It all started at the age of 25 when the local Y closed down the gym (and fitness classes) for two weeks and she had no other way to get her workout endorphin rush.

Running - June July 2016
Running in June and July 2016
1. Why do you run? So many reasons! To lose myself, to connect with nature, to socialize, to feel good about myself. It is the best “free” therapy one can get.
2. Do you have a mentor that has helped? I think I learn from almost everyone
3. What’s the best advice you ever received? Trust your training, especially when it comes to those longer distance races.
4. Would you rather it be 10 degrees or 85? 10, for sure. I can always add clothes when it is cold, at 85, there’s just a ton of suffering and sweat.
5. What are 3 things every runner should know? Take time to Cross train. I consistently take time for strength classes, yoga and swimming.
Strong hips and butt = happy running life
Rest days are just as important as that long run.
6. Trails or roads? I like them both, roads are more convenient, but the trails are better for me as a runner.
7. What’s your go-to shoe right now? Altra Paradigm 1.5
8. Best running book you’ve read? Of course, Born to Run, but I also enjoyed What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami.

Running - May 2016
Running in May - Abroad in the UK and at Home
9. What is your occupation and how do you fit running around work? I am a chemical engineer and I lead the IT / Automation department a chemical manufacturing facility. I run in the morning before work.
10. What’s the worst running injury you’ve had? While not technically a running injury, tearing my ACL while playing soccer in 2012 put me out of running commission for 5 months and delayed my first marathon attempt. I had it reconstructed and ran my first marathon 2 years later.
11. What is your second favorite race, behind the Illinois Marathon? The Chicago Marathon is a great race with tons of crowd support and gives the runner a unique perspective of the city.
12. Which PR are you most proud of? When I was in my 20s, I ran a 4 mile night race in 29 minutes. But, since those really fast years are long gone, I am happy with any “good time” nowadays.
13. Are you a supporter of wearing compression clothing? Yes! For my calves.
14. Favorite running app? I’m on Runkeeper because I have data back to 2011 logged, and it is fun to see the progression over the years. Through the magic of app integration, my Garmin data automatically syncs to RK. I also like to take photos when I’m out running (#shirleyruns) and RK allows the user to upload those too.
15. Current running watch? The Forerunner 220.
16. Would you rather watch a live sporting event or go on a 12 mile run? 12 mile run
17. I’ve heard others talk about how difficult mile repeats are. Any particular workout you dread? I really don’t like speedwork. At. All
18. Can you get yourself out the door without a group or running partner? Yes, I ran alone for many years and still enjoy running alone. The key is to get into a routine / schedule and not to think about it until you are out the door.
19. Average weekly mileage? When I’m not training for a marathon, 25-30 miles
20. What’s the earliest you’ve ever started a run? 5am, but would start earlier if need be.
21. Longest run on a treadmill, or will you just run outside regardless of the weather? I call it the Dreadmill for a reason. The longest I’ve ever managed is 5 miles. I’ll run in almost any weather with the exception of lightning.
22. Longest distance where you put the word “just” in front of it when telling your friends how long your run was? 14
23. Ever lost a toenail? Yes…that was an interesting experience...
24. Biggest mistake you ever made in a race? I struggle with calf cramps. I think I under estimate how much I sweat, and it has impacted a few of my recent long races.

Running - April 2016
April Running - Culminating in the Illinois Marathon
25. Please provide us a little background on the Wednesday morning running group.
Somehow, I’ve convinced a bunch of people that it would be “fun” to run each Wednesday morning at 5:30. The group meets at the local YMCA and we run a 6-8 mile loop in the surrounding neighborhoods. I live close to the Y, so I run from my house and meet the group on the road.
The group originally consisted of members from a Wednesday morning yoga class. The class was moved to Monday, so the Wednesday 5:30 spot was now “open” for other endeavors and I suggested a group run. We’ve invited friends, co workers, people we’ve connected through 2nd Wind and the Marathon training groups. The group started last September and continued all winter long, through the dark, the cold, some snow and rain.
Participation averages around 5-6. We’ve had as many as 10 people and as few as 1 person (um, yeah, that would be me, running in a pre-blizzard). We generally run 9-10 minute / mile pace, but have some speedier and slower folks that morph into casual “pace groups”.
26. Describe your ideal running conditions. An ideal temperature for me is between 45-50 deg, warm enough for shorts and a tee shirt. Add in a crisp fall day with the leaves turning along the route or a vivid sunrise and that is running perfection.
I also enjoy running after or during a gentle snowfall. The snow dusts the trees, softens the impact of the road and muffles ambient noise. You can’t run as fast, but in those conditions, it’s just nice to be out there in the snow globe.

And as Jimmy Buffet sings, “Go fast enough to get there, Slow enough to see”.


July 2016 Desktop Calendar - Dolphin

There's still plenty of July left to download this month's free desktop calendar.

I know what you are thinking - wow, she's posted three times this month! Yes, I am on a roll, hopefully it will continue.

July's calendar features a playful dolphin we encountered on a fishing excursion in Florida. The captain of the boat saw the dolphin, then sped up stating "let's see if we can get the dolphin to jump the wake". The dolphin happily obliged, much to our delight. They are amazing creatures.

To download July's free calendar, click on the link from
July 2016 Dolphin Calendar


The Catch Up - May 2016 - More Horses, Travel and Concerts

I'm back, this time with an update from May.

IHSA Nationals
Erica competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Show National Competition in the “Horse Capital of the US”, aka Lexington, Kentucky, held at the Kentucky Horse Park. The event was held in the Alltech Arena – a world class facility. She hit the big time!

Scenes from Kentucky Horse park, simply idyllic with the gently rolling hills and green pastures, speckled with horses (of course):
My Old Kentucky Home

We made friends with this big boy:
Star Power

Never Met A #Horse She Didnt Like #equestrian #horselover #drafthorse

In this shot of the arena, the course is set up for the jumping events and gives you an idea of how big the place is.

Todays Arena #equestrian #ihsa #nationals

The staging area for the horses looked like a mosh pit of horses...
Pit Crews #ihsa #Horse #nationals

In Competition:


While she didn’t place in her event, this experience as a freshman in college means she’s going to work harder to earn another chance to compete at the National level. I am super proud of my horse loving daughter!

Trip to the UK (London and Cardiff)
The day after Nationals, I got on a plane and traveled to the UK to run a training session for work. Highlights – I got to visit with my sister and her family in London and the weather was sunnier than normal.
Family Outing sunny and warm that ice cream with a chocolate flake was in order for the kids. The flake pops out of the top of the ice cream like a straw. I ended up buying a box of it on my way home.

As usual, we made our way down to the Thames.
House Boating

The wisteria was in full bloom, adorning all the doorways.
Seasonal Bloom #wisteria #window

The training session I ran was held in Cardiff, Wales, about a 2 hour train ride to the west. I was able to explore the city of Cardiff, Wales via the lens of daylight (the last time I was there in the perpetual darkness of winter), met some new running friends and ran some cool routes.

UK visit May 2016
Cardiff Castle Along my Run Through Bute Park

UK visit May 2016
The Pierhead Building at Cardiff Bay

UK visit May 2016
Along Waterfront Park

UK visit May 2016
Wales Millennium Center

On the “Dimmer” side, I managed to catch the intestinal bug my sister was harboring and well, that was not fun. Fortunately, the brunt of that hit mid-week; I delegated sections of the training course to my work colleagues and quarantined myself to the hotel room. The hotel was quite accommodating, supplying me with complimentary room service and whatever else I wanted (Yeah, I get that they didn’t want me wandering the halls and spreading this to other guests). I only missed one day of the training and didn’t have any issues traveling back to the US.

May Birthdays
Scott and I celebrated our “last birthday” before the big 5-0. My friend, Jill, had extra tickets to see James Taylor in concert, so I got a special birthday gift from her. It is amazing that he is almost 70 years old, still performing on tour and sounding great.
JT in Concert

And I'm 49

The kids officially wrapped up the school year and settled into their summer routines - May was gone in a flash.


The Catch Up - April, 2016 - Horses and Running

Yeah, it’s been so quiet here on the blog, so much so, I bet you all figured I just stopped taking photos, and disappeared into the abyss.
While not 100% true, life has certainly been busy and I’ve gotten lazy about taking photos, getting them up to flickr (heck, even my auto publish from Instagram stopped working for two weeks) and posting all those mundane details about them. My parents even noticed my lack of activity and called me out on it!
So, here’s what I’m dubbing the “Highlights” and “Dimmer Lights” of the last several months, and this is April's installment. I have more written for May and June (since it is now July)!
I am purposefully not using the term “Low Lights”, as I really have nothing in my life that truly warrants a “Low Light” category.....

April Highlights:
Equestrian Zone Competition - Erica and I flew to Amarillo, TX so she could compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s Zone 7 competition. She is an active member of Illinois’ Equestrian Team and qualified to compete at the Regional level in March. At the March competition, she won her Regional event (Novice Flat Equitation Class), which allowed her to compete at the Zone level, in Texas.

IHSA Zone 7 Competition 2016

The event was hosted by Western Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX.

Highlights – the weather was warm, I got to see some friends who recently moved to Amarillo (yeah, kind of random). The event was a great experience for Erica, who attended with another rider from the club.

IHSA Zone 7 Competition 2016

Announcing the winners - In a process akin to a beauty pageant, the competitors line up and the judges announce the placements in descending order until there are only two left.
Process of Elimination

So the excitement mounted when Erica's name was not announced.... three left, two left and wow, she's the winner!

Winner of the Big Ribbon

The biggest highlight of the month - Erica winning this competition, which meant she advanced to the National Competition!

First Place in Novice Flat

Dimmer Light that weekend – I set off the Airport security machine and then proceeded to fail the next level of testing (swabbing my hands, clothes for bomb producing chemicals). Yeah, I had to be taken into the “back room” and personally searched. No big deal, just a little humorous (Sorry, no picture, I know you are disappointed).

Running - I ran Marathon number 4 at the end of April. Highlights: This was my best marathon training cycle to date. With the exception of a slight quad tear early on, I executed all the runs, didn’t get sick and went into the race feeling great. I hit my target pace of 9:30/mile up until mile 20. That’s when “Dimmer Lights” started in the form of calf and hamstring cramps. Darn those cramps! I got them when I ran Chicago, too. Race day was a complete slog, with rain throughout the race, somewhat reminiscent of last year, but not as bad. Even with the rain, I was cheered on by so many people I knew - that makes a big difference and really makes this race special. I ended up walk – running the last 3 miles and as a result, wasn’t tired after the race. No PR either. Oh Well.

#Marathon Four is in the books
The only photo I got, after the race, with my running friend, Sandeep.
An interesting trend – all of my marathon times are within 2 minutes of each other. Consistent, that I am! I recovered quickly and was back to running three days after with no soreness.

And that's a wrap for April. Tune in again for May highlights - more horses, travel to the UK and a fun concert.



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All images on this blog (unless stated) are the intellectual property and copyright of Shirley LeMay Photography and Shirley Behind the Lens (© 2005-2020). Do not steal, borrow or pirate the images here.

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code. and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibits the use of digital property to be used without the consent of its owner.

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