Sunday, January 31, 2016

Advice for Creating Great Formal Portraits

When someone you wants a nice formal portrait there are a few things to keep in mind. Posing, lighting, background, retouching and focal length are some of the points that need to be taken into consideration. When everything comes together the result is an image that the subject will be proud to display.
There are many styles of portrait lighting. The recent trend is toward a very even and diffused light on all sides of the subject. Formal portraits for many years were built on a foundation of the key and fill light. This lighting style features one side of the face in brighter light than the other. The Hollywood era of the 1930s and 40s featured black and white images with deep shadows. The important point is that the subject is lit in a manner that is flattering.
By definition formal portraits have some type of cloth or paper backdrop as opposed to an environmental portrait which includes elements such as tools for an image of a mechanic, or horse and hay bales for a cowboy. There are all painted canvas backdrops and seamless paper in all colors. A brightly lit portrait with a white background is known as a high key portrait.
Posing your subject is important and professionals have many poses in their repertoire. It is best not to use a regular chair because that can end up showing up in the image as a distraction. An adjustable is the beat. I prefer to have the person seated at an angle with one shoulder pointed at the camera. Then I have them turn their face directly at the camera. Shoot some with that shoulder facing forward; then switch to the other shoulder. Also make slight adjustment to the head position. If you are using a tripod, which is great for camera stability, shoot a few image from a bit higher than the subjects’ eye level and a few images from below eye level. If the person wear eyeglasses, it may be necessary to have them drop their chin a bit to avoid glare from the lenses of their glasses.
Another advantage of a tripod is if you are shooting several people in a session, things will move faster if the posing stool and tripod-mounted camera stay in position as the people posing flow through. Some photographers prefer not to use a tripod because they feel they have more freedom to move about. Shooting toddlers for instance may work better when not locked into a tripod. But executives tend to be well behaved in that regard.
When 35mm cameras were the workhouse of photographers the 105mm lens was known as a portrait lens. Why? Because if did the best job of replicating the way the human eye sees another person. Focal lengths on the high end such as 400mm and longer tend to flatten the face a bit. On the other end of the scale wide angle lenses tend to distort the face and make the nose seem longer. In some cases the subject’s ears may far seem away or the shoulders look out of proportion. With a DLSR there is a slight conversion to compensate for the fact that most digital sensors are smaller than a frame of 35mm film. So if you have a zoom lens on your DSLR set the lens at somewhere between 50mm and 90mm for optimal results.

Children have beautiful clear skin, but when you are shooting adults, retouching becomes an issue because of wrinkles, bags under the eyes, blemishes and other issues. Learning to use a few post processing techniques will lead to pleased customers. Just remember that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I used to do some portrait work for people who needed pictures to go on their online dating profile page. Although I normally did some fix up work; one woman requested that I make her look much thinner and offered to pay extra for it. I declined.
Retouching jobs can be sent out to third party firms, often located offshore in places like the Philippines or Malaysia. I recommend doing it yourself. The healing tool is my favorite. Get a fuzzy brush and set the opacity pretty low and go layer by layer. Most adults have crow’s feet on their eyes that can be dealt with easily. Select some nice clear on the cheek and layer that over the problem area. Then look for bags under the eyes and do likewise. Sometimes I will brighten the whites of eyes with the dodge tool or a very light application of white paint with the airbrush. It will make the person look healthier. Just don’t overdo it. The teeth can be whitened this way too. Some women will apply a thick coat of lip gloss right before sitting for a portrait and that using ends up reflecting the portrait light back at the camera. So this may have to be solved with the cloning tool or the healing brush.
One more point important when shooting portrait is to put the subject at ease and get them to relax and give a pleasant smile. I always like to get a good natural smile in a t least one shot. But for some portraits, such as a police officer or politician I also like some serious expressions. There are some photographers that real masters of dealing with people. Others know equipment, but lack people skills.
It takes practice to get it right. However, if you keep these points in mind, you will find it easier to create great formal portraits.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shoot It Till Its Dead

by Jon Wason   copyright 2013
I am not a violent person but my philosophy is “shoot it till its dead.” As a photographer I am driven by the desire to capture a great image. Let me explain a bit more.
Last week I spotted an interesting, old, pickup truck parked along the highway so I stopped for a closer look. There is a center console next to the driver’s seat in my Toyota and my camera is almost always there ready for action.
Almost everyone is familiar with electron microscope images of sperm fertilizing an egg. What you see is the large round egg completely surrounded by the wriggling sperm cells. Similarly, when I find a good object to shoot, such as that vintage, red pickup, I shoot from all angles like the sperm attacking the egg. I shoot from straight on and slowly move around clicking from all angles. Another thing I do is and zoom in on some details like the chrome plated grill and the big round fenders. Also use a wide angle for some shots. Be sure to move back and get some distance shots, too. If you fortunate enough to have a bag full of lenses, mount ‘em and use ‘em.

The great thing about digital capture is that later you can delete the images you are not pleasing to you. A few years ago when I was using film, I shot less images because processing a roll of 36 exposure film was about 10 to 15 dollars. With digital a camera this is not a concern, so shoot all you want. However, keep in mind that you will spend some time holding your camera and reviewing images and deleting the ones you don’t like and later at your computer spend more time editing the images from your shoot. So there has to be some balance between quantity and quality.

Don’t be a violent person, but when you are out there with your camera remember to shoot your subject until it is dead.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Keep Your Camera Handy, Andy

Copyright 2013 Jon Wason

“I wish I would’ve had my camera with me,” is a common lament. I don’t know how many people have said that to me after describing some amazing sight such as a bald eagle, a rare Ferrari or a famous celebrity. It has happened to me, but not too often.
            During my daily commute my camera is within easy reach. One recent morning, I was driving to work on a foggy morning. Some of the route is rural and takes me past a reservoir. As I pulled up to a stop sign I looked to my left and caught a glimpse of a pleasant reflection of a tree in the mist.

Instead of saying, “I wish I had a camera,” I pulled over, put the car in Park and grabbed my camera. I shot a few frames out the lowered window and continued on my merry way to work. That evening I discovered that I had captured a nice image.

Another morning I was passing near the railroad tracks when I saw the Amtrak Acela coming my way. I stopped the car and grabbed my camera. Unfortunately, there was no memory card in the trusty EOS, but I had one in my pocket. As quick as a bunny rabbit, I popped it in, and clicked off two shots. It is a good thing that the fastest train in the USA is forced to slow down to a crawl as it passes through my town.

I used to drive a minivan and my camera fit under the seat. Now I have a Toyota RAV4 with a center console that is a perfect hiding place for my camera. This is also a protected location where food and drink cannot be spilled on it.

My advice is to keep your camera (with good batteries and a memory card inserted) close at hand while you also keep your eyes peeled for photographic opportunities. Go get some good shots.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Oh, Good it is Cloudy Today.

by Jon Wason   copyright 2012

Some people only want to grab their camera and shoot on sunny days. But you shouldn’t let a cloudy or rainy day stop you from shooting a great image. I am happy when I wake up, look out the window and see an overcast sky. That is because cloud cover provides diffused light which is softer than bright sunshine, so your images won’t have lots of harsh shadows. Remember, photography is all about light.

Studio photographers invest piles of money in a constant search for the latest light modifying equipment in an effort to illuminate their models with the softest light possible. However, an outdoor photographer who takes advantage of a cloudy sky has the benefit of even lighting as a free gift from Mother Nature. The cloud layer softens the sunlight and acts as a huge diffuser. The pleasing quality of light creates great portraits.

The Dutch Master painters of the1600s such as Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer appreciated the quality of soft light. What was their preferred light source? These painters loved to use a window that faced the North as their source of light, because the sunlight that enters is indirect and diffused. Take a look at the portraits painted by Rembrandt and you will see fine examples soft lighting.
On a bright, sunny, day when you photograph a person outdoors, they can end up with dark shadows under their nose, and chin. A guy wearing a baseball cap disappears under deep black shadows hiding his forehead and eyes. Noon is about the worst time of day, by the way. Of course this problem of harsh light can be remedied by using a flash as a fill light, but that is a topic for another posting. But, when you are shooting pictures of people outdoors, on an overcast day you can get some very pleasing images due to indirect lighting. 

When it comes to weather you have to take what you get. So when it is a cloudy or storming outside, take advantage of the situation. Grab your camera and go shoot some great images.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Capture the Golden Light of Sunset and Sunrise

The average person does not pay much attention to light, but photographers develop a sensitivity to the quality of light. For outdoor photography the "magic hour" is hour hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise. The sun at that time of day is not directly overhead and so it creates long shadows. The light is also not as bright and has a slight yellow cast.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

RTFM Where is My Owner’s Manual?

by Jon Wason   copyright 2012
Back in 1901 if you had a dollar to spend on a frivolous luxury you could buy a Kodak Brownie camera. Even though the advertisements claimed the camera was so simple “any schoolboy or girl can make good pictures with the Brownie Camera” it came with a 44-page instruction booklet.  
More than a hundred years later, cameras still come with a manual and people still don’t read them. However, there are benefits to reading your camera manual or the manuals for any other mechanical devices.
The initials RTFM stand for “Read The Fine Manual” – or something like that. I think perhaps the angry retort, “RTFM, you idiot!” can be traced back to frustrated computer help desk employees, but that is just a hunch. Anyhow, my advice is just invest a few minutes and read the manual. After that put in your camera bag so in some future date when you are out in the field shooting some interesting subject and need to adjust something on your camera, you can easily retrieve the manual and find the answer. If the manual is back at home with the box the camera arrived in you are out of luck.

Many people purchase a new camera, excitedly open the box, remove the wonder of modern technology and never even open the manual, much less read it cover to cover.
I can’t recall how many times I was at wedding shooting all the events of the day and a person approached to ask me how to operate their camera. They ask, “Hey can you show me how to turn on the flash? I just got this camera,” or “Do you know how to change the shutter speed?” I did my best to help them but they were making two mistakes. The first was assuming that because I am a wedding photographer I know how to operate every camera. The second mistake was not learning how to use their camera. The best remedy for that one is to read the manual.
A few minutes spent looking at boring little booklet can pay off later with better photos.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

F-stops, Apertures and Lenses: a Lesson with Jon Wason

What is an F-stop? What is an aperture? How does the f-stop relate to the shutter speed? Learn the answers to these questions and more. Jon Wason uses salt to represent light for a lesson that will clarify the concepts and help improve your photography.

Follow this link for a 9 minute video: