When the sun is really harsh, you can still get wonderful portraits by placing your subjects just inside a shady area. This might be just under an umbrella (like my example of these gorgeous siblings), inside a garage door, inside your house door, under the slide at the park, under the light of the first tree, etc. The key is to not position your subject too deep into the shade. You want all of the light that is just behind you to spill softly onto your subjects. This will give even lighting across the face(s) as well as great light in the eyes. (65mm -cropped; F/5.6; ISO 400).
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.
That’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).
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!)
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.
Today was her last game of the season (they tied 1-1). And today was the first time I shot a game this season. Shooting any sport from the sidelines can be challenging. But I’ve found a few of the following tips to be useful. First, make sure your camera is set to aperture priority and select the widest aperture you can with your lens. This way, your camera will always choose the fastest shutter speed for you. Plus, you’ll bring the focus on your subject since the background will then blur out a little.
Set your ISO a little higher (400 or 800 if sunny; 1000 if overcast) to ensure faster shutter speeds to stop the action. (If you have a point and shoot camera, try setting the camera on the sports mode). Next, put your camera on both the continuous auto focus and continuous shooting mode. If you have to lift your finger after each shot to take the next, you’re guaranteed to miss something. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a pro shoot, you’ll remember that their finger stays on the shutter release until the ball is out of play! You almost feel as if you’re watching a video when you review their thousands of shots. For sure, knowing the game is a big help since you can anticipate where the action will be. But, if you’re sports-challenged like me, then following the ball through your viewfinder will naturally keep you where the action is and then start pressing the shutter as soon as your child enters the frame. You may also choose to follow your child, but then you sort of miss the game. Another good tip is to not stay in one place. If your child plays on the same side as where you are seated (left wing, e.g.), you may wind up shooting a lot of his or her back. If you venture to the opposing side, on your team’s goal end, you may have a better chance at getting a shot of them facing you rather than the back of their jersey. And of course, your positioning may need to change throughout the game, so be prepared to walk/run the field on a day you plan to take lots of photos. Crouch down once in a while to get a different perspective, and zoom in on details like cleats and balls to make a full story for your album, photo book, scrapbook or digital frame. And last but truly not least, make sure you have a lens that can zoom over a wide range so you can get in close when the action is far down the field (a lens that goes up to around 300mm on a digital SLR is ideal) and you can capture it all as the action gets close to the sidelines by zooming out to a wide angle setting. Additionally, while you still may want to crop in a little closer later on, the closer you are to start, the better quality your cropped photo will be in the end. (ISO 400; 232mm; 1/1250 sec; F/6.3)
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.
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).
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)
I volunteered to take portraits for the Brownies Father Daughter Dance. Turned out to be 53 girls and their dads! Whew. So Angela volunteered as a second camera. We set-up a make-shift studio in the school hallway by tacking up a sheet and using just one on-camera flash. Not like a pro studio, for sure, but hey, this is the equipment most of us own. So with the father sitting in a chair, and his daughter sitting on one of his legs with her legs in the middle, we asked the dad to put his hands in his daughter’s lap and the girl to put her hands on dad’s. We asked them to put their heads together so there was no space in between. Lastly, we tried to make sure that his cheek was somewhere near her temple. This way, their heads were staggered, a key to good group portraits. You never want to have everyone lined up evenly as it makes for a boring picture. There were several cases where dad came with two daughters, so when adding in the third, fourth or fifth person, ask some stand behind or on the side of dad, as this will ensure all of their eyes are on different level s. And be sure to have all of them close the gaps and move in closer to dad to keep the subject area in the middle. Another trick: since we opened up the aperture all of the way to be sure to blur the background, make sure that no one leans too far forward or too far back as then one of them will not be in sharp focus. Then we stood far enough back (approx 8 feet) to make sure we did not get the floor in the photo and we zoomed in to fill the frame. The flash was bounced off the ceiling. I positioned the flash almost straight up and this eliminated shadows on the backdrop. However, the loss of light from traveling up to the ceiling back down to the subject made the photo appear under exposed, so we just moved the exposure compensation to +2 and the image looked great. Last tip? Iron the sheet! Overall, the portraits came out very nice and everyone seemed pleased. (Tamron 18-270mm VC with VC on, Nikon SB800 bounced flash, ISO 400, F5.6, 1/60th sec, +2 exposure compensation, Auto White Balance).