As we start to move towards reuniting with families, consider a more formal portrait of your long-awaited get togethers.
Many of my portraits, candid or posed, are taken by big bright windows as they provide a beautiful soft light on my subjects. And, because I really have a love/hate relationship with my flash and try to avoid using it when much better light is available.
In this photo, the grandchildren gathered around grandma facing the window straight on. Even the dog got in on the action at the moment I clicked the shutter release, but due to my slower shutter speed of 1/25th sec, she is blurry, but I like the story behind it, so I do not mind. I was fairly close them, standing between them and the window, so I used a wide focal length of 32mm. Because of the focal length setting, and stopping down slightly to f/4, I was able to keep the boys behind grandma in relative sharp focus. Stopping down yet again to f/5.6 or even f/8 would make them 100% sharp.
I love the bright eyes that the window light provides as they looked up slightly to my camera lens. It really makes their eyes and smiles pop!
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.
When shooting people, I like to get just a little bit above eye level. When shooting straight on, especially when photographing someone taller than you, results are sometimes less than flattering. Look at the man in the photo on the left, and then compare it to the photo on the right. The only adjustment I made was to stand on a chair and ask him to lean forward just a bit. That slight adjustment results in a much more flattering snapshot that slims him down and eliminates the double chin. A bonus: the background is much less distracting and looking up at me with the sky behind me adds a sparkle to both of their eyes that is not there in the first one! Quick tips to be prepared for that ultra impromptu snapshot of guests who don’t like having their photo taken, but begrudgingly grant you just a moment to do it.
Before mom or grandma comes over for Mother’s Day (May 13th), think about a great spot in your yard to take a beautiful mother’s day portrait. Look for a spot that has open shade. Open shade will give you even lighting and really make the eyes sparkle. Great choices are in a doorway, under a covered porch, or under the perimeter of a shady tree. Position your subject just inside the lens of shade. Rule of thumb for positioning is if she can take just a step or two forward, and she is in sun the sun, then the step or two back is perfect! Too far back and you will lose some of the brightness and highlights in the eyes that the open shade provides. Try to get just a little higher than your subject so she looks up slightly towards your camera. Use a wide open aperture like F/2.8 or F/3.5 to blur the background. If you can use a tele zoom position, then your background will be even more blurred. So scout out your location and do a few test shots before your special guest arrives on Mother’s Day. Read more about open shade here and here).
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.
Window light is one of my favorite ways to take portraits and still life shots as you well know since my blog entries frequently feature this type of shot. I felt by sketching out how I position the camera and the subject might be helpful. I am going to ask you to not laugh at my funny sketches, but I am sure you will not be able to help yourself. I laughed too as I was making the card.
This is a repeat, but one that needs repeating since I think we all want to achieve great portrait shots— even when it’s just a quick candid shot we’re grabbing before the cake is served or before the kids are leaving for school. And using shallow depth of field is a key to great portraits (along with expression, lighting, angle). Shallow depth of field, when the parts of the image in front of and behind the subject are out of focus, makes your subject pop off the image. The example here (a repost from the summer), for instance, shows the eye and smile in sharp focus, yet the tip of the nose, ear and hair are out of focus. Another advantage of shallow depth of field is that you can eliminate distracting backgrounds like indoor clutter, foliage, cars on the street, etc., It makes the background less defined with soft colors.
To get shallow depth of field, the key is to set your camera to the “A” mode: Aperture-Priority. You can leave your ISO setting at 200 or 400 (or higher if the lighting conditions are low) and leave your camera in autofocus. You will then use your thumb-wheel to dial in the smallest number you can, like F/2.8, F/3.5, F/5.6. Focus on the eyes of your subject, or the eye that is closest to the camera. Depending on how close you are to your subject and what lens you are using (telephoto lenses and closer proximity make the effect even more apparent), you will notice that the background is just soft to almost unrecognizable. If you want the photo to have some context of where you are (like cooking in the kitchen), then maybe F/5.6 is a better choice. But if you want the crowd in the background to go really soft, “open the lens wider” to F/3.5 or F/2.8 if you can.Please review the aperture download card here.
I rarely use the scene modes on my camera, but the one I find myself using from time to time is the Night Portrait mode. This scene mode is the one with the icon featuring a person and star or moon (see typical camera mode dial below). I use this mode when I want a person as my main subject, but the special lighting in the background, like Christmas lights, Times Square lighting, or a sunset, is equally important. In this photo, my subject posed in front of the town’s decorated gazebo and lit tree.
The Night Portrait mode sends out a burst of the flash to capture the subject and than makes the shutter stay open a little longer to capture the lighting in the background. The trick in this mode is to be sure both you and your subject hold still to avoid unwanted blur from camera shake or subject movement. In fact, my subject did move and her hands are slightly blurry due to the very slow 1/10 sec shutter speed required to achieve the effect. But the expression was just what I hoped for, so for me, it’s perfect. I boosted the ISO considerably—to 1000— and I opened my aperture to F/5, the widest setting for this situation, in order to make the lights softer in the background. Using the Night Portrait mode helped me take the guess work out of deciding how to set my flash and shutter speed and instead concentrate on snapping away until I got what I was looking for. So pose your kids in front of the tree or outdoor decorations, or position your family along the railing at sunset on your next cruise, set the camera to Night Portrait mode and see what you can get!
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.
The rule of thirds is one of the most powerful creative options you have when composing your photograph. A photo that has the important element of the photo at an intersecting point of a “tic tac toe” board, or in one of the right or left, top or bottom thirds of the photo, is one that is more compelling than a shot with the subject centered.
Most often, you don’t want to position your subject smack dab in the center of the frame. It’s boring. Although, this rule, like all rules, can be broken very effectively. That really depends on the shot. But if you start to think about not putting you subject in the center of the frame, you will train your eye to see better shots. For example, the eye closest to the camera should hit one of the intersecting points. Or the critical part of the landscape should be in the top third or bottom third, left third or right third. My shot here shows the subject off to the right slightly and in the lower portion of the frame. This gives the subject breathing room in the frame, the “white space” (which does not have to be white, but rather unimportant or non-distracting space in the frame) gives your eye a place to rest and then come back to the subject, and by positioning the subject as I did, you get a feeling of where she is and that where she is important to me and therefore should be to the viewer as well. Below is another example. This time a vertical landscape that also adheres to the rule of thirds. I added the tic tac toe board to both images also so that you can get a better idea of where the intersecting points or thirds of a frame are.