When sunlight hits colorful fall foliage, it makes a stunning backdrop for your impromptu family portraits. The trick to getting the painterly background look that makes the subject pop off the background is to use a wide open aperture. The portrait here was taken at 70mm with an aperture setting of F/2.8. Focusing on the eyes, the background drops out due to the shallow depth of field into a painterly sparkle of fall colors. If your lens does not open to a fast aperture like F/2.8, use your telephoto lens at its maximum zoom, set the camera to aperture priority and choose the widest aperture opening (most likely F/5.6 or F/6.3) and step in a little bit closer. That combination will drop out the background for a similar look that makes a beautiful portrait suitable for framing and display on your mantle.
As all of the school year activities wind down, and some fun summer times begin, take a step back from it all and zoom in on the moments with your telephoto zoom lens. Not only will you get some more natural expressions, but your subjects will really stand out from the background with your tele lens setting. At the end of the last soccer game of the season, I remained at the side lines while the coaches gave encouragement and praise to their players and zoomed in. I caught a very natural expression on both coach and player. Additionally, while outdoors this summer, pay attention to where the sun is. Try to shoot later in the day when the sun is not so harsh. And look where the sun is hitting your subjects. Here, the sun is lower in the sky and behind the team, which adds a nice rim light to their hair and shoulders. In this lighting situation, set your camera to spot meter, as I did here, to be sure the camera gives the proper exposure for your subjects, and does not “put on sunglasses” because of the bright light behind and make your subjects darker than desired. Look for the metering button on your camera and turn it to spot. When you look through your viewfinder, you will see a the smallest of circles in the center of the frame (see below). Be sure this circle is on your subject, press and hold your shutter release button half way to lock in both focus and exposure, adjust your composition if necessary, and then take the shot by pressing the button the rest of the way.
- I would get just a little bit higher instead of shooting at eye-level
- I would have one more level of subjects instead of two predominately same-height rows, allowing me to make the group more narrow to accommodate my desire for a full-length vertical shot
- I would move the boy in the white shirt to either kneel in front, or to a position behind grandma in blue
- I would make more organized rows of turned shoulders, instead of all facing forward
- I love the open shade, but I would changed our position slightly to eliminate the harsh lines of shadow in the foreground and background top right
- While I purposefully picked F/8 as my aperture to be sure I had enough depth of field for both rows to be in sharp focus, I think stopping down to F/6.3 or 5.6 would have blurred my background more
I do love the lighting, though. Open shade is so flattering (see previous post for more) and in most instances, can be easily found when you take a look around your location. As you see, they are all standing just inside the shade, not in the harsh sun. If they were further back into the doorway, I might not have gotten the sparkle in each of their eyes from the open shade situation. The sun bounces around and lights my subjects evenly as if you held a big sift reflector in front of them, thereby eliminating harsh shadows under chins and brows and giving you highlights in the eyes.
So while I will look for a similar location next time I shoot a group like this, I will a) get higher, b) watch how the subjects are arranged more closely, and c) look more closely at what’s in the edges of the frame and zoom in, change position or change composition to eliminate anything distracting from the frame.
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.
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!)
Just edited my 500 photos down to a few (only 72) and picked this shot of my colleagues to demonstrate “framing.” There are natural and manmade frames everywhere you look. Framing your subject focuses the attention on your subject and gives nice balance to a photo. The frame gently guides your eye to what is important. I loved the arch in Valletta, Malta, and asked Bert and Ruth to stand under it. It was late in the day, so the light bounced off one side of the arch and filled their faces with light. Look for frames in the form of tree branches, porches, swing sets, tunnels, tubes and more. The whole set of Malta images are at http://tiny.cc/QWL0H (Tamron 18-270mm; 20mm, F/5.6, 1/800 sec., ISO 200)
You know that sparkle we strive to get in every subject’s eyes? The sparkle that brings a portrait to life? Well, that same feature needs to be in your pet photos, too. I remember a photo contest judging once where the guest judge, a wildlife photographer, eliminated a contestant’s bird entry since the bird looked dead! It had no pin-point highlight in its eyes and she felt it looked like a taxidermy prop. So when shooting your pets, avoid that same horrible criticism. Walk around them to find the right light, or if you have a well-trained pet, make it sit near a window just like I ask my model to do when I want a casual portrait.
Now with Cinder here (a new addition to the home of close friends), how can you miss? Those eyes! But I still looked to see how the light hit his baby blues. The sun was behind me and we were under the shade of a tree. This is called open shade and gives the image a nice even tone, not contrasty on the bright sunny day. And it also leads to great highlights in the eyes.
Open shade can be found in many places: just inside a doorway, just inside the garage overhang, under the light of the first tree in a forest or tree-lined road, under a beach umbrella, just inside a beach cabana, and many more places just like that. Just be sure to not move your subject too far inside, but keep them just inside where the light is no longer harsh. Use a wide open aperture to blur distracting backgrounds. (ISO 400; 200mm; 1/1250 sec; F/6.3)