About once a week I try to give you a sneak peek into one of the photography shoots that I’ve recently done. I also try to give you photography newbies some tips. You know…stuff that I have learned, stuff that could help you, stuff that has helped me, just general photography stuff. But with all those posts about photoshopping and working with lighting and suggestions on how to work with kids, I realized that I kinda need to start at the beginning for some of you. Afterall, you are just like I was…inspired to take photos of the important people in your lives and you have a pretty decent camera (and some of you even have access to the editing software too)…but somehow it doesn’t translate into great photos. So that is what this post is all about: Where to start when it comes to photography. Let’s call it Photography for Beginners.
First let’s talk about your camera.
I recommend purchasing & shooting with a camera that has the ability to turn off the flash. If you don’t know how to do this on your camera – read your manual. Yeah. That book that is probably in the box your camera came in. When you use just a standard camera’s flash, it blows out the foreground and results in portraits that have loads of shadows and discolorations. Let’s assume that you have a good SLR camera (like the Canon Rebel or Nikon D3000) and it has a bunch of different modes – like auto, manual, Aperature Priority or Aperature Value mode (AV), and Shutter Speed Priority mode (TV). I suggest that if you are starting out…STAY AWAY FROM AUTO. Don’t go there. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Don’t even think about it. It’s a sure fire way to take a craptastic photo. And to never learn the right way to actually use your camera. It’s like a drug…and you’ll get hooked and then years down the road, we will catch you compulsively picking scabs on your face in a corner while jonesing for a decent family photo. Not cool.
Now let’s talk about the time & place to take a photo.
The best time to take a good portrait is early in the morning (with an hour or two of sunrise) or late in the day (an hour or two before the sun sets). This is the time that the sun isn’t directly overhead and you will be less likely to be struggling with harsh shadows and the forehead glare (I call it headlights). Also, have your subjects either face the sun or face directly away from it. Practice with your favorite calm and obedient child to see the difference. Below you can see Tara was facing the sun – resulting in a very flattering highlighting of her features. Test to see what you like best. Switch it up during the same shoot for a completely different result.
The best location to take a portrait is one that allows the subjects to be relaxed. Then look for a place that has minimal distractions in the background. Also…since you are shooting at the forementioned dusk or dawn – there shouldn’t be a lot of direct sunlight. But if there is…go to a shady area – have your subjects in a shady area and you should stand in the shade too.
Now that you are in the right place, at the right time with the right camera, let’s talk settings.
The number one thing I tell people is that you can’t duplicate perfect lighting just by setting the camera on the same settings. You need to be flexible with your particular situation. That being said…let’s start somewhere easy. Imagine a triangle. This triangle is the key to proper exposure (or perfect lighting for you normal talkin’ folks). One corner of the triangle is the ISO setting. The other corner is your f-stop (that setting on your camera that is f/____) and the third corner is the shutter speed. If you can get the right combination of these three things…well, then you just shot a perfectly exposed photo. (enter happy dance here).
Now for an exercise. First, go outside with your test subject at the proper time. Now put your camera on the AV setting. This mode will automatically set your shutter speed according to your f-stop. Now set your ISO to 200 (if it’s really bright outside) or 400 (if it’s a little more overcast). Now I want you to get really close to your subject and set your f-stop as low as it can go.
Take the photo.
Now what SHOULD happen is your background should be slightly blurry – like the photo below. If the photo looks too light – then notch that ISO to 200 or 100. If it’s too dark, then move that ISO to 400-600. You want to make SLOW adjustments. Note the differences.
Now go back to your original settings. This time, slowly adjust the f-stop up and then down. Note what happens.
Now let’s talk about basic portrait rules.
1. Focus on the eyes. You know that little red dot that appears when you press your trigger half way down? Yeah…it should be on the eyes…ALWAYS the EYES 🙂
2. Put your subjects in the upper third of the photo. There is more to the rule-of-thirds but for starters…put em smack dab on the upper line that would slice your photo in thirds.
3. Don’t shoot below your subject. Listen…this can work sometimes…but for beginners, it’s smart (and the most flattering) to be on eye-level or above your subjects. You will avoid many-a-double-chin this way.
Lastly – SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT.
Practice literally all the time. Practice on leaves. Practice on trees. Practice on the mold that is growing up the side of your house…whatever you do, take out your camera and get clickin. Practice different angles. Practice different backgrounds. Practice different lighting. PRACTICE.
And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day…and neither will your skills. The key here is to improve. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Afterall, photographers are some of the nicest people in the world…I should know 🙂
Not to switch gears on ya, but how cute is Clara? Man that girl has personality. It’s like oozing from her pores. Kinda like pus…except less disgusting and totally more adorable.