On a beautiful fall day, I posed my subject next to a tree facing the back of the house, which acted as a reflector. The sun bounced off the house and lit the girl’s face and gave her a really nice highlight in each eye. Reflectors can be any white or near white surface, such as a painted brick wall, a sign on a door, or more. Position your subject in the path of the light as it bounces naturally off the “reflector.” If you are in a place where there is no structure that can act as a reflector, then break out a white piece of foam core or oat tag to bounce light back into your subject’s face and eyes. If you love this technique for posed portraits, then you might consider buying a reflector from your local camera store. So look around to see not only where the light is coming from, but what it is bouncing off.
It’s very hard to catch him smiling naturally. So, as I did in this restaurant during lunch, I often snap a few photos in a row hoping for that “in-between” moment when he’s more relaxed. I think I got it here! This photo has a nice natural background since I used only the light from the window my subject was facing for lighting, rather than using my flash. And since my ISO was set to 400, my shutter speed was a slower 1/50th of a second (I turned on the anti-shake on the lens to eliminate any blur that might have occurred from hand-shake). That slower shutter speed allows the shutter to remain open long enough to capture the ambient light in the background, also lit by the large bright windows. The result is a nice shot that shows the whole scene. So when indoors, ask for a seat near a window and capture the ambiance of the whole scene.
We are not nocturnal by nature, so our photo-taking time is usually during the day. And now that it is almost summer, there will be plenty of bright sunny days on which you want to take photos of vacationing kids and visiting guests. So what do we need to do to get a decent outdoor portrait? The simplest solution is to look for open shade. Open shade is the step you take back from the sunny to the shady. It can be just under a tree. Or a step inside a door frame or porch. Or a tent or any overhang. The open shade eliminates all of the contrasty shadows that appear on the face and clothing of a subject standing in the sun. Look at the side by side comparison, especially the eyes and the shirt of the girl on the left. (Pls ignore the color as I did not reset my white balance from sunny to shade and consequently have some funky color going on; pls be sure to set the WB to auto or shady). Below is a shot that shows you the line between a good and poor candid portrait. The girls were first on the sunny side of the line, and then took a step back into the shade. I love how the light catches in their eyes when you shoot in open shade. For more on open shade, see this post too.
When the sun is really harsh, you can still get wonderful portraits by placing your subjects just inside a shady area. This might be just under an umbrella (like my example of these gorgeous siblings), inside a garage door, inside your house door, under the slide at the park, under the light of the first tree, etc. The key is to not position your subject too deep into the shade. You want all of the light that is just behind you to spill softly onto your subjects. This will give even lighting across the face(s) as well as great light in the eyes. (65mm -cropped; F/5.6; ISO 400).
BONUS Lesson: This second photo was also taken in the open shade of a small umbrella on a very bright beach. Here you can actually see just how close they are positioned to the edge of the shade. But I am throwing this in to illustrate leading lines. Your eye naturally goes to the boy first and follows down the line to the sitting girl, but notice how the lines of the table push your eye right back up again. This is a great way to keep your viewer engaged within the image.(55mm; F/5.6; ISO 400)
A few things to keep in mind when taking a portrait of a person or pet by window light:
ONE: Natural window light usually means wide open apertures and slower shutter speeds, so consider boosting your ISO if necessary, be sure your anti-shake mode is on, or use a tripod to prevent camera shake.
TWO: The closer you are to a window, the more dramatic the shadow on the opposite side of the face will be. Positioning your subject further from a window means softer, more even light.
THREE: You can actually stand in front of the window and position your subject facing the window and it won’t cast a shadow! This results in very flat lighting on the face. Four, shoot by a window even if it is overcast or there are soft sheer curtains. The light will be beautiful.
That’s of course one of the tricks to getting a good photo. Just keep taking pictures! But even when your doing some of the most mundane things, you might just find some perfect light and a child with a great attitude for the day! Here are two shots from our recent overnight in NYC. We went window shopping down in SOHO and while in a furniture store, she sat down while we browsed. When I checked on her, I noticed that the window light streaming in from the high broad windows was beautiful. Her eyes just sparkled when she looked up at me. Of course, I said, oh, you look so pretty, stay right there! The warm tones in the store made it even more beautiful and she cooperated for two or three shots. (32mm; F/5; ISO 400).
At the next store, there were floor to ceiling windows all around the 2nd floor store. And she picked up a nice prop- a bouquet of artificial sunflowers – and promptly sat on the floor in front of the window. Because I was so close to her, not more than five feet, and used a focal length slightly more than normal (65mm), the flowers are out of focus. (65m; F/5; ISO 400). For both shots, I had my camera in aperture priority mode so that I could always pick the most wide open aperture I could get given the lighting. This way I ensured the background would be a little softer to make her pop out. And I always focus on the eyes (or the eye that is closest to the camera).
When it comes to our children’s stage performances, it is very difficult to get great shots unless you have total access during a rehearsal. The mistake most people make is to take photos from their seat in the auto mode. If you do this, the flash will go off and you’ll get a dark stage and very well lit heads of the people in front of you. So sit back and enjoy you child’s live performance with your eyes rather than through your camera’s viewfinder (I know, any of us shutterbugs find this an almost impossible suggestion!).Instead, concentrate on getting a nice shot of your child in costume by venturing back stage during rehearsals or prior to the performance. I checked on my daughter the day before her recital and saw her costume for the first time. I was thrilled when I saw the light streaming in from the windows behind the back stage curtains. I asked her to sit down for a moment with the side of her face parallel to the windows to get nice side lighting on her face. I then crouched down just a little so that I could see her ballerina skirt spread all around her and her big happy smile. This point of view also let me include some of the wood floor that her pretty feet danced on the next day and one that really gives the viewer the true picture of what was happening when I took the photo. Find a place in the environment that has some windows and position your actor or dancer so that the light brings out the detail in the costume and a highlight in your child’s eyes. Don’t get too close to the window as the light will be too harsh. Instead, move a few feet or more away from the window for an even light. I always try to not use the flash and opt for natural light whenever possible.
I am no Photoshop guru. Everything I know I learned from photographers Ken Hubbard and Andre Costantini, two pros who DO know their Photoshop. But I can fix a shot that’s too dark, or the wrong tint. Sometimes sharpen it up a bit. The thing to remember with digital is that almost all images need a little boost. If you send your images out to a lab to make prints (like Shutterfly or any other online processing) or drop them off at a drug store, the images automatically go through processing to increase contrast, correct a little color and sharpen them. But if you print at home like me, it’s worth the little bit of time to take a great shot and make it even better. Software like Photoshop Elements, Picassa and more are a great investment of both time and money. I noticed my shot of her in the pool from Sunday’s aperture post was looking a little blue. So I took a moment to fix it and thought this would be a good post. Here we go…
Step 1: Go to Edit > Adjustments > Levels (Ctr+L) and move your slider on the right until you meet the black hill. If need be, move the slider on the left to meet the black hill, too.
Step 2: Next, I zoomed in on the photo and went to Image > Adjustments > Curves (Ctr + M) and clicked the eyedropper on the right (white) and selected a white point in the photo (the rail of the pool in the background). The image now shifted color and became brighter.
Step 3: However, I thought it was too bright. So I went to Edit > Fade > Fade Curves (fade will adjust the opacity of whatever your last action was) and selected 50%. I like the difference. I think the retouched version pops a little more and it not so blue.
The light filled the screened porch room late afternoon on Mother’s Day. So I put down my Bellini (a cocktail I’d never had before but thoroughly enjoyed) and picked up my camera before the sun went down. Luckily, the grand kids were quite cooperative. I asked the smallest to sit on Grandma’s lap. The older girl sat on the opposite side on the arm of the chair. And I asked the boys to stand behind Grandma. And just as I asked them to all lean in toward Grandma, and the boys to bring their heads and shoulders in a little closer (to prevent them from dropping out of focus), Kelsey decided she wanted in! Kelsey is a Soft-coat Wheaton Terrier newly adopted by my mother. She just wanted to get in on the action. So she was a fifth “person” in the photo, and mom lifted Kelsey up just a little higher to get her head in good position. Then the kids all squeezed in and we got this lovely picture for mother’s day. I did not use a flash. No? No. The highlights in everyone’s eyes are from the beautiful window right behind me. I cropped out the TV in the background to make this a nice 5×7 for Mom’s house, but you can see me in it taking the picture and the window too. So, be sure to always look for a window. Even on an overcast day you’ll get brilliant looking portraits when you use the window as your light source. Two, get the kids (and pet) on several different levels to make a nice composition. Notice how those beautiful smiles make a ring around their beaming grandma! And three, use the stabilizer feature on your lens as I did to get a blur free shot. And four, go with the flow. You never know who might pop into your viewfinder! (ISO 200; 32mm; F/4; 1/25 sec, Auto WB; Aperture Priority)
I volunteered to take portraits for the Brownies Father Daughter Dance. Turned out to be 53 girls and their dads! Whew. So Angela volunteered as a second camera. We set-up a make-shift studio in the school hallway by tacking up a sheet and using just one on-camera flash. Not like a pro studio, for sure, but hey, this is the equipment most of us own. So with the father sitting in a chair, and his daughter sitting on one of his legs with her legs in the middle, we asked the dad to put his hands in his daughter’s lap and the girl to put her hands on dad’s. We asked them to put their heads together so there was no space in between. Lastly, we tried to make sure that his cheek was somewhere near her temple. This way, their heads were staggered, a key to good group portraits. You never want to have everyone lined up evenly as it makes for a boring picture. There were several cases where dad came with two daughters, so when adding in the third, fourth or fifth person, ask some stand behind or on the side of dad, as this will ensure all of their eyes are on different level s. And be sure to have all of them close the gaps and move in closer to dad to keep the subject area in the middle. Another trick: since we opened up the aperture all of the way to be sure to blur the background, make sure that no one leans too far forward or too far back as then one of them will not be in sharp focus. Then we stood far enough back (approx 8 feet) to make sure we did not get the floor in the photo and we zoomed in to fill the frame. The flash was bounced off the ceiling. I positioned the flash almost straight up and this eliminated shadows on the backdrop. However, the loss of light from traveling up to the ceiling back down to the subject made the photo appear under exposed, so we just moved the exposure compensation to +2 and the image looked great. Last tip? Iron the sheet! Overall, the portraits came out very nice and everyone seemed pleased. (Tamron 18-270mm VC with VC on, Nikon SB800 bounced flash, ISO 400, F5.6, 1/60th sec, +2 exposure compensation, Auto White Balance).