Improve your Photography
This is a growing series of articles dedicated to helping you improve your photography.
A few short comments
Consider using your built in flash for daylight shots of your friends. Do not rely on the flash firing automatically in daylight, just set the camera to flash. This works really well when the background is bright and your subject needs supplemental light.
Unless you want your subject to look like a prisoner, avoid straight on (face, shoulders, and torso facing the camera) shots. It is much more flattering to have your subject’s body angled at 45 degrees, close foot pointing at the camera and the other behind and pointing in the direction the body is facing. Then have the subject look at the camera or slightly to either side as you wish.
I often see Facebook Profile Photos with more than one person in them and find it quite confusing.
Have you ever seen professional models posing with their arms at their side? I have, and I think I know why. First, they are showing off the garments and accessories so the pose is less important. Second, I think, they are trying to look a bit heavier than they are. Yes, heavier. You see, when the arms are at the side, the body looks wider. Is that pose good for you? Maybe not if you possess normal body weight.
A good rule of thumb, or should I say elbow, is to bend it. One way to do this is hand in pocket or on the hip. The most slimming pose would be to make a hole between the arm and body on both sides so that the camera can see through. Now strike a relaxed, comfortable, pose, and smile. You will look great (also see my Mug Shot—Photo Tip above).
Take a look at your favorite magazines with an eye for photographs of people. Pay attention to how the person is posed and put yourself in their place. Rip out the ones you like best, and try to copy the pose. Share your rip sheets with the photographer.
High key is the opposite of low key (see my post below on low key). The goal is the same, focus the viewer's eyes on the face. See how the baby’s clothing blends into the white background making the adorable face stand out. This technique works best for subjects having light hair and of course white clothing.
The idea with low key is to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject’s face. The dark background and dark top tend to blend together while the face stands out. This example took dark to the extreme. The High School senior was a sheer pleasure to photograph, and the result was dramatic, wouldn’t you say?
Taken in studio with Nikon 24-70 zoom at 70mm, f 8, and 1/200 sec
Narrow depth of field
One reason some professional lenses are so expensive is that the diameter of the lens is enormous, making the glass more costly. So why do they do it? The larger diameter lets more light into the lens, resulting in better low light performance and narrower depth of field, assuming the lens setting (f-stop) is wide open.
What is narrow depth of field? Contrary to what most of us expect regarding focus (everything is in focus), the narrow depth of field shot puts most everything out of focus except the subject. This is a good choice when the background is full of stuff you would like to eliminate.
Geometry lesson: Draw a line out of the lens to the subject and label the distance x. Now draw a surface perpendicular to that line. That surface is called the plane of focus. The depth of field is some delta of x where the focus is judged acceptable. With some lenses this could be plus or minus one inch from the plane of focus.
As confusing as all of this can be, one look at the photograph on the left should convince you that narrow depth of field can have a dramatic impact. See how the focus gradually gets blurry as the distance from the face moves towards the background. Especially note how the blurry background seems smooth and creamy. That smooth characteristic is called bokeh, another prized feature of an expensive professional lens.
Taken with a Nikon 70-200 zoom @ 200mm f 2.8 1/45 sec, hand held with available light crawling on the floor with baby.
Shoot in shade
Flatter your subject by avoiding harsh sunlight and the stark, high contrast shadows direct sun can cause by shooting in the shade. This portrait was taken in Peru without any special equipment other than my camera. There was bright direct sun camera right that lit a patio that was out of the photo. Reflected light from the patio lit both faces, while the subjects were in total shade. Additional fill light was provided by reflection from the windows and wall camera left. The result was a flattering portrait with brilliantly saturated colors.
Taken with Nikon 24-70 zoom at 48mm, f 2.8, and 1/160 sec