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.
|The lit leaves in the background add some drama.|
Taking pictures at the beach is always fun (as long as you take a few precautions to protect your camera — see 7/6/11 post). But often we get harsh shadows that make the photos less desirable. Get rid of the harshness and raccoon eyes just by popping up your flash! Put your camera on the program mode (P) and pop-up your flash. As you can see in the example comparisons below, you can soften all of the harsh shadows. Examine the two photos. Look under the chair’s head rest, under the left arm, under the chin and below the rim of the sunglasses. Additionally, look at the sliver of rocky sand in the background on the right side. On the left, it’s sort of greyish, but on the right, it is a more pleasing color. Then look at the example further below (please ignore that toothless grinny expression!). In this case, the brightness behind the subject made the camera’s meter stop down a little (like putting on sunglasses because it was too bright) resulting in her face being too dark. But by popping up the flash, you see how you can brighten up a dark face. Tip: If you find the flash to be too bright or too artificial looking for your taste, then you can tone down the flash very simply. Look at the same button you use to pop up your flash. It should have a +/- symbol. Hold this button in and dial the wheel at your index finger to the right so that the numbers on your display go to the negative side. You are essentially subtracting power from the flash so that it puts out less light. Try several different settings (-0.7, -1.0, etc) until you achieve a desirable shot. You may need to consult your owner’s manual (yes, sorry) and look for “flash exposure compensation” in the index.
I have to admit it. Flash is my least favorite type of photography. I suppose since it seems so technical and the results can vary from situation to situation, looking artificial, too dark or too washed out. Luckily, today’s flashes can run pretty much on auto pilot and can be used for creative effect with just a little practice. But this time of year, and for the next four or five months, we’re all stuck indoors a great deal of the time, especially during the holiday season when we take so many candid photos at get-togethers. So I thought I’d share just a few basic flash tips to improve your indoor photos:
1) Your pop-up flash, the one that is part of the camera and pops up automatically if you are shooting in the “green box” total program mode, can cover just a short distance. Most of the time, any subject further than ten feet cannot get enough of the flash illumination for a properly exposed shot and that is why they look dark. You can boost your ISO to higher than normal (try 800 or 1000) to try and get more reach.
2) When you position your subject too close to a wall and use your pop-up flash, you are bound to get harsh shadows behind your subject. Eliminate this by having your subject step a few feet away from the wall and by shooting from a little bit above the subject (which is also a more flattering angle for portraits).
3) Your pop-up flash can cause red-eye quite often. This is because the flash is so close to the lens. It is worse on point-and-shoot cameras than DSLR cameras, but typical in either case. To eliminate red-eye, you can use the red-eye reduction function that throws out a pre-flash to make your subject’s eyes close down, but I find often that people think you’re done and move before the photo is actually shot. You can also try turning up the lights in the room to help the iris naturally close down a little.
4) If you are in a very dark room, the camera/flash may over-expose your subject (you know, the white face that appears to have nothing but eyes and lips) since the camera reads the room as very dark and wants to make it brighter. This also happens if you are too close to your subject. One solution is to back up to correct the latter, and turn up the room lights if you can for the former. If you cannot control the lighting, try moving your subject closer to a room light like I did above.
An on-camera auxiliary flash, like the one for my camera shown above, elevates the flash away from the lens and helps to reduce red-eye dramatically. This type of flash also helps in other ways: a) it can throw the flash further allowing you to be further away from your subject; and b) you can change the position of the flash to get more even lighting with much less shadows. This is called “bounce flash.”
The photo above of my very Thanksgiving-weary subject was taken with the auxiliary flash in a bounce position. The flash bounced off of the ceiling and back down onto my subject. You can see the lighting looks much more natural and softer than in either of the two photos below where the shots look more artificial and harsh. In the photos below, you can also see the harsh shadow under the lamp and on the futon frame. And, there are hot spots on her cheeks. You can also see how quickly the flash “drops off,” meaning the couch gets darker, whereas in the photo above, the couch and subject are all evenly illuminated since the bounced flash showers the whole area with light. One caution–always bounce off of a white wall or ceiling as the flash will take on the color cast of what it is being bounced off of (e.g., a green ceiling will produce a ghoulish effect).
Like learning how to control your depth of field to blur backgrounds, mastering your flash is a must for anyone who is looking to take better people photos. So this season, try to remember some of the tips above when shooting your flash candids at family gatherings. And if you can get an auxiliary flash made for your camera onto your wish list, it will be a worthwhile investment for many years.
Taking a photo by candlelight can be a little tricky. But boosting your ISO and opening your aperture to its widest opening can really help. In this photo, I asked my subject to move his face close to the cake (but not so close as to get burned). My ISO was set to 1600 and my aperture at F/5.6. I held my camera as steady as possible and used the image stabilizer on my lens. I metered on his face and zoomed out a little to compose and focus. The result is a warm image from the candles, and a nice highlight in his eyes. Use a high ISO and position your subject close to candles for any birthday celebration, or for the lighting of the menorah this holiday season.
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.
My friend CrisDee over at Elementally Speaking asked if I would guest post for her site where she shares with you ideas for creating, capturing and keeping family memories.(see the post below, or at http://elementallyspeaking.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/new-feature-photo-tips-from-stacie-errera/Thanks Cris!)
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)