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…
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.
I love window light. In the Italian restaurant where we celebrated this boy’s first holy communion, a bank of windows with translucent shades was near the kids table. I asked him to take a minute and stand near the windows, using the wall treatments as a colorful and classic background that leads your eyes right to the subject’s face. I set the camera to aperture priority and dialed in the widest aperture opening I could (F/4.2). The ISO was set at 400. And since the light was low, I turned on the anti-stabilizer on the lens and was able to get a sharp image at 1/30th of a second (gotta love that VC!). The natural light really lets you see the details in his dapper suit and his beautiful rose corsage. And his dark eyes sparkle from the window light. It took more than a few shots to get a natural smile, and I did it by asking him to close his eyes real tight and then open them. He giggled after making a goofy face and I was able to catch a pretty natural smile.
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.
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.
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.