Taking family photos this Holiday? Of course you are! Here’s a little video with some advice that will help keep you happy and sane when family is in front of your camera. Lots of common sense stuff, but maybe worth a view.
I like to work without unnecessary complications. If there’s beautiful natural light available, and it meets my needs for a certain look, then I’m not going to introduce flash, or extra reflectors and flags for that matter. I say, if the light’s there, and it works, then use it as-is. The trick is to know when it’s not quite working. When you’re in the flow of a set of shots, sometimes the light and the subject fall a little out of sync with each other. This is where hotspots, shadows, and high contrast might distract from the overall feel of the shots.
The shots I pulled from this sequence were all taken on a small couch near a large bay of windows with sheer curtains. The light was soft and beautiful when the clouds where just right, and when the subject was in just the right position to avoid the hotspots coming through the gaps in the curtains.
Are hotspots always a bad thing? No. And I have to say, it’s a very subjective call. But you’ll know a good shot from a less effective one when you learn to identify the kind of light that is distracting. When you’re shooting, try to see beyond the subject and the pose, and notice where the light falls, and how it helps tell the story. If the light somehow takes the eye’s attention away from the things that are important, make a thoughtful adjustment and continue shooting the good stuff.
Here, the hotspot on the subject’s nose is just too distracting for me.
Again, the contrast between the forehead area and the rest of the face is too high.
Maybe here, one could argue that the areas of brighter light actually help tell the story.
Whether you’re shooting indoors with window light, as I did with these examples, or outdoors under the shade of trees, watch carefully for those hotspots, and avoid them altogether, or use them to your advantage.
In this video, I provide a quick overview of on-camera fill flash for outdoor portraiture. I know that using your flash on the hot shoe isn’t the sexiest technique in the world, but sometimes it’s the best way to go, especially for things like outdoor event shots, where things are moving quickly and conditions aren’t perfect for off-camera setups.
Here, I go over the basics, including using TTL flash and “P” mode (yes, that’s right!). Eventually, you’re going to want to use Aperture Priority mode, FEC, and EC for better control over your shots, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? And really, I kind of cringe when I say this, but DSLRs and their flashes are getting so smart these days, you can get some pretty nice results with automatic settings if you’re not ready for on-the-fly balancing and fine-tuning of your flash and ambient exposures. I talk about NOT using flash, too. As much as I like controlling the light, I can also appreciate cutting down on the complexity, and just having fun with the natural light.
Do you need an exciting location to make great people photos? Not really. As a matter of fact, the more “location” you put in the shot, the less emphasis you’re going to have on the person featured in it. Sometimes that’s okay, because sometimes the story is not just about the person, but also about the environment they find themselves in.
But let’s say the focus IS squarely on the person. It’s best to just keep things simple. Marisa and I were strolling around the West Village the other day, looking for interesting spots to take photos and we came across this wall. I’m just going to say it was “teal-colored,” because when it comes to things that are sort of blue but sort of green, I just give up on labeling them. On an otherwise busy-looking Cornelia Street, this looked like a good spot to frame some cool shots.
The thing about good backgrounds is, they’re everywhere. I mean, you only need so much area around your subject sometimes, and as long as you can find a spot just a little wider than your subject–you know, the area that’s actually going to appear in the shot–it can serve as a background.
Big blue(ish) wall. Bingo! Okay, maybe it’s more green than blue.
I asked Marisa to get in front of that wall and just have fun posing it up.
17-40mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/125
If you’re using a normal or telephoto lens with a wide enough aperture, you can blur out whatever is behind your subject as long as you’ve got enough distance between the subject and the background. With enough blur, the background can basically dissolve into clouds of color. Trees, buildings, whatever; they can all be turned into backgrounds that compliment the subject. All you have to do is identify the areas that might work, and try them out. Stay away from tones that are so bright that they distract the from the subject, and on the flip-side, don’t let dark hair or clothing blend into very dark tones in the background.
Maintain the emphasis on your subject, while giving the viewer a sense of environment. Here, a busy urban landscape is suggested, but it’s not so distracting as to take away from the shot. 50mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/160.
This post originally appeared in our newsletter.