Fall Foliage Background Perfect for Photo Portraits

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. 

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Camera

NYC_STORE_1That’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).

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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).

Unclutter Your Photo’s Background

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Understanding the function of F-stops, or the aperture of your lens, is undeniably the most confusing of your DSLR’s features. However, once you master it, you will make a huge leap forward in the quality of your photos.

As a photo student in high school and college, I stuck a slip of paper onto the back of my camera (yes, in film days SLRs had a bookplate slot on the back of the camera where you slipped in a flap from your film box so that you could remember what film you had loaded. Can you imagine?!). On this slip I wrote, “open aperture=blurry” and “small aperture=sharp.”

An open aperture lets in a lot of light. On your lens it is a setting like F/2.8, 3.5, 5.6, or 6.3. Think of the aperture as your eye’s pupil. If there is not much light, your pupil gets bigger, or “opens” to let in more light. But a big result of using an open aperture is the effect of a blurry background that really makes your subject pop off the page (or screen). You can easily control the aperture setting on your camera by putting the camera on “A” and dialing in one of the aforementioned numbers. Your camera will automatically pick a shutter speed to make a proper exposure.

If you have a distracting background, dialing in a wider (or open aperture) will make the background blurry and eliminate the distractions. However, maybe you want the background really clear. Like if you’re standing in front of a sign that you want to be able to read in the photo. Then you would dial in a small aperture.

In this first photo, her eye is in focus, but her earring is not, and neither is the tip of her nose. I was just a few feet away and had the camera set to “A” (Aperture Priority) and dialed in F/6.3. Now conversely, if you choose a small aperture, like F/22 or F/32, your background will appear more sharp. Again, imagine a bright sunny day and how your pupils react: they get smaller and let in less light. But also, think about when you squint and how things get clearer. This is sort of how a smaller aperture works. In the second photo, I dialed in F/32 and her earring is now in more focus.

{F/6}

{F/6}

{F/32}

{F/32}

 

{F/6.3}

{F/6.3}

{F/22}

{F/22}

Frame Your Photos with Stone Arch

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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)

Too Much Tilt In This Photo? Yeah, You’re Right.

Yes, too much leaning to the right. Or is that the left? But I love the expression. It is so hard to get natural expressions from her these days. I am sure this is true of all kids her age.

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They become more self-conscious. More goofy. They think they’re Miley Cyrus posing for CD cover (check out the tween star earrings I let her wear on weekends now). So this was a shot in-between the aforementioned less than desirable looks/poses. I just love her face. And the color! Posed in the shade of the garage in front of the sunny and colorful azalea bushes, she pops off the background. To get this effect, I set the camera to aperture priority and opened up to F/5.6 (my widest opening on this lens, at this focal lenth, in this light, at this ISO). Setting your camera to the portrait scene mode would give you a similar result. The wide open aperture makes the background blurry and soft. But I’ve got to admit it, my attraction to tilting (seeMarch 13 post) did not work out in this photo so much. I’ll try tilting it back a little in photoshop. But love the smile and that’s what really counts. (F/5.6; 1/125 sec; 400 ISO; 60mm with VC on).

To Tilt or Not To Tilt Your Photos

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I admit it. I am a tilter. I just love the little feeling you get that this is a moment captured rather than a posed shot (even when it is, like this one after she got her 6th sequential soccer award–well, every player gets one every season, but special to her nonetheless). To me, slightly or moderately tilting the camera gives the picture energy. The other benefit of tilting is that if you, like me, hardly ever hold the camera really straight (making my images sometimes look a bit “off”) no one notices that the image wasn’t straight to begin with. So I just go with my natural tendency to tilt and use it for effect. Now many people feel tilting is over-done. And it can be. And there is certainly a time when it is not appropriate and can ruin an image. But I like it. And I’m sticking with it. For now. (ISO 800; 55mm; F/4.8; no flash; program mode; auto white balance). PS-can you see the catch light in her eyes? It’s coming from an overhead skylight! So look around for a light source when you are figuring out where you want your subject to stand.

Black & White Beauty

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I was waiting to catch my limo to take me away from my daughter for 5 days. And I needed an updated photo of her to show off to my colleagues and to look at while the plane took off (since having her I fear take-off and landing terribly). So I took five minutes to sit her on the ledge of our bay window and snapped for as long as she would let me. I made a quick bw print to take with me. But while surfing ThePioneerWoman.com website, I found her photoshop actions and decided to try to make a new black and white today that would really bring out her eyes. I used Black and White Beauty and Boost. I really loved how the light from the window sculpted her face: since she was so close to the window, the side farther away from the window is a little in shadow, which gives the portrait dimension. If she was further away from the window, her face would have a more even tone from left to right. I used a medium telephoto setting combined with an F5.6 in aperture priority mode. That was enough to blur out the patio furniture that was visible outside the window.

Overcast Days Make Great Photos

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The lighting on an overcast day, even at midday, is ideal for natural and easy candid portraits. My daughter played in the snow, got her cheeks all rosy, and then stopped for a minute for me to grab a couple of shots. I stood back and zoomed in to 120mm to blur out the background and I had no worries about the “raccoon eyes” you might get midday on sunny days since the snow acted as a natural reflector and bounced light back into her beautiful face.

Gotta Love A Big Window

Love this photo of my niece. She’s so sweet and I just want to kiss that face. Seated in a restaurant on an overcast day, soft light poured in the large window to the right. As she conversed with her mom and dad, I shot at a wide F/3.5 aperture setting with the vibration compensation turned on to accommodate the slow 1/25th sec shutter speed. Only when her face was turned slightly towards the window did I get that twinkle in her eyes. Tip: Look for north facing window and position your subject’s cheek toward the window. You’ll get nice side lighting that gives dimension to the face and highlights in the eyes.