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Portrait Photography Tips

Your Holiday Moments

Your Holiday Moments by Russell Burden Here′s How to Take Great Indoor Christmas Photos The holiday season rolls around but once a year making it a special time. If your pictures don’t turn out, it’s not as if you can recreate the sincerity of each moment you intended to capture. With this in mind, step one in getting great shots is making sure your camera is in good working order and you’re familiar with its use. So let’s assume you’ve checked out your gear, you have extra batteries and memory cards on hand, and this is the year you’ve vowed to get good Christmas photographs. Rather than settle for basic snapshots, why not endeavor to bring your holiday photos to a new level. With a little extra effort, you can turn those snapshots into fantastic pictures.   Photography is all about light. The better the light, the better the image. Knowing how to augment existing indoor light will help you attain better indoor photographs. Every Christmas I set up a holiday family portrait. To not detract from the day’s festivities, I keep it very simple. The main light comes from a north facing window. I use the fill flash feature on my camera to add a twinkle to the eyes. I set the flash to go off one stop less than the ambient light. If your camera doesn’t allow you to set a specific flash compensation, just set it for auto flash fill. My camera is mounted to a tripod, it’s set to ISO 400, and I hit the self timer. After the fourth exposure, we open the gifts. Try to do your shooting during daylight hours as window light provides an even and easy source with which to work. If you have a room with a skylight, better yet. If you have to shoot at night, try bouncing the flash off a white ceiling to soften its effects. The light from a few candles provides a nice accent. Their warm yellowish cast adds a nice touch. Extra lamps can help augment the ambient light. Don’t use fluorescent lights as they will give a green  tone to the image. With regards to composition, keep the background clean and simple. Choose one that’s not cluttered and can accommodate all the people in your group. Decorate the setting with holiday decor to make it more festive and colorful. Areas around the tree, a fireplace, or the mantle with the stockings are good candidates for a location.   The placement of subjects in the composition should go beyond, “stand there and look festive,” especially when working with large groups. Build layers and try to fit people together like pieces of a puzzle. Keep the formation balanced to create harmony with regards to what the subjects are wearing. Note what’s going on in the background to prevent overhead fixtures or other items from growing out of people’s heads. Take your holiday images to a higher level using mood light. Candle light works well to create this effect when combined with daylight film. The amount of light a candle emits is low so you’ll need many. Even with this, a tripod and fast film are essential. Arrange the candles around your subject constantly checking if the model is evenly lit. Have your subject stay very still and make some portraits. Finally, while your camera is loaded with fast film and on a tripod, try making close ups of some of your favorite ornaments using available light. A fully lit menorah is a good light source to create these moody images.

Family Portraits this Fall

1.  Shoot late in the day because sunset light combines beautifully with the colors of Fall leaves. 2. Pick your subjects′ clothing so that everyone is wearing "autumnal colors".   3.  Find open areas (like state parks in the mountains) so that wide expanses of fall leaves can be seen. Photographs © Joel Silverman, Atlanta DPA Instructor

Your Child′s First Day of School

To get great shots of your child′s first day of school, shoot both candids and posed shots. For candids, I suggest you try capturing the moments when your sons or daughters are organizing their backpacks, primping themselves in front of the mirror, giving goodbye hugs to mom and dad, getting ready to walk out the door, and ambling away toward the school bus. Reserve time to make a posed shot when your kids are all dressed and ready for their big day. Every year I′ve taken a snapshot my son by the front door of my home. It′s become an annual tradition that′s both sentimental and meaningful. Make the morning of your child′s first day of school low key. For many kids, it can be a very stressful time. Constant reassurance that everything will be OK will help comfort them. While your spouse or one of your other children is doing this, photograph these tender moments. Try to capture the feeling as hugs and smiles are shared. Pump up the ISO on your digital camera and try shooting some pictures without flash. If it can be arranged, try to introduce yourself and your child to the teacher before the new year starts. Before my son entered Kindergarten, we did this. I got permission from his teacher to take some photos on the first day of school. In that my son felt comfortable having met her a few days before the year started, it lowered his stress and made it easy for him to pose with her. By the time he came home, I had the photo processed. Seeing the image allowed him to more easily identify with her and it also made a very memorable photo. Lastly, wait at the bus stop when your child returns from that first day as he or she steps off and runs to you with a big smile and open arms.

Michael in the canoe, Maine

For a fun alternative, I used a very low angle, tipped the camera and switched to black and white. Try new ways of looking at a subject...don’t even look through the viewfinder. Black and white and other alternative color settings on the TZ-3 can make an ordinary photograph look creative.  

Using Evening Light

There is a certain light that happens only on a summer evening. You know what I′m talking about, that light that makes everything glow. The "magic hour", whatever you choose to call it. Many things happen at this time of day. Wildlife becomes more active. Insects hatch on trout streams. And your cousin who hasn′t caught a fish all day finally fools a trout into taking his fly. When all these elements present themselves, be ready and you′ll come away with some memorable images. When photographing someone with a fish, on a lake or a stream, bring them close to water level. If they are wearing sunglasses have them take them off. Are they wearing a hat? Raise the bill a little so you can see their face. Is the sun at their back? Use a fill flash. Focus on the fish and recompose the image, let the person fall a little out of focus. Include the background by using a wider lens and getting closer to your subject, it gives the photo a sense of place. © 2007 Michael Dvorak, Minneapolis DPA Instructor Think of your photo as a small narrative of the moment. It may seem like a lot to think about, but the more you do it the more it just becomes second nature. And remember, these are just tips not rules.

Don′t be Afraid to Shoot into the Light

The old Kodak box instructions that said to have the sun behind you should be discarded! Backlight gives definition, and you don′t have Uncle Harry or Baby Mark squinting like crazy at you. But keep in mind that bright, specular reflections on the water will throw your in-camera metering system off-balance, and you will need to open up/increase exposure to compensate. And give your subject "room to look;" in the above there is more room in front of the child than behind. It also illustrates "the rule of thirds..." © 2007 Michael Hart, Houston DPA Instructor

Patience is a Virtue!

Patience is one of the most difficult yet rewarding virtues in making photographs.  Hanging in while waiting for the light to settle down, literally, allows one to work in warmer light, with light that has direction.  Add the preciousness of those last minutes of daylight and you have the makings for the extraordinary.  This can work with the light behind...or in front of you.   © 2007 Frank Siteman, Boston DPA Instructor

Get in Tight and Be Open to Unusual Angles

Most people want to turn this photo upside down, we are so accustomed to viewing faces in the "correct" angle. But the boy was about to go down a water slide, and was literally hanging in the opening getting blasted by the water as he prepared to let go and shoot down the enclosed slide. The "Radial Blur" tool in Photoshop enhanced the feeling of swirling down this chute. © 2007 Michael Hart, Houston DPA Instructor

Spring Light for Portraiture

Tip:  Approach your potential subjects with a smile and ask if they wouldn’t mind if you took some photos of them. If you get a positive response, before you begin your image making, talk with your subject to make him or her feel relaxed. When you eventually raise the camera to your eye, you’ll be greeted with a warm smile. If it’s sunny, use a flash to soften the contrast and reveal detail in the shadow areas. If your camera doesn’t have flash capability, look for a shady area and try to eliminate bright areas in the background. What makes photographing so wonderful in the spring is people are coming out of winter hibernation and enjoying the great outdoors. This opens the door to making them more friendly and increases the potential of finding many subjects in the park.   © 2007 Russ Burden, Denver DPA Instructor © 2007 Russ Burden, Denver DPA Instructor © 2007 Russ Burden, Denver DPA Instructor

Using your Flash for Fill

Here is a portrait where I′ve used the sun as a side light and filled in light on the subjects face with a flash to lessen shadows and brighten her eyes. Make sure to balance the flash with the ambient sunlight to make the lighting look natural. In this image the flash is off camera controlled wirelessly so the flash can be placed to camera left... Anthony Brett Schreck Photo Tip #2 Use Your Flash for Fill! All images © Anthony Schreck Minneapolis DPA Instructor     Here is a portrait where I′ve used the sun as a side light and filled in light on the subjects face with a  flash to lessen shadows and brighten her eyes. Make sure to balance the flash with the ambient sunlight to make the lighting look natural. In this image the flash is off camera controlled wirelessly so the flash can be placed to camera left. Here are some examples without flash fill and with flash fill dialed down .7 of a stop to look natural and not overpower the subjects face with flash. Remember, If your flash is set to auto your camera may read that there is enough light and not turn the flash on. Set your flash to always fire. The two images below were shot with the Panasonic Lumix L1 with the on camera flash set to off in one (to show the shadows) and the flash set to always fire and flash compensation set -.7 in the other.    

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