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Portraits

Senior portrait with a background that makes the subject stand out. Subject: Meg Greenfield, Freshman international relations major at Southwestern University.

Now that you’ve mastered some basic techniques with your camera, a friend suddenly comes up to you and says, “wow, your pictures are awesome, would you take a portrait of me?”

You think top yourself, what do I know about shooting a portrait? The good news is, shooting a basic portrait is not hard and you don’t need an expensive flash or softbox to make it look good.

The Set up

Determine what the final picture will be used for. Is it just for fun? Is it a business portrait? Is it an actor’s head shot? Senior picture? Once you determine what the photo will be used for you can decide other things. For example, location. If you are shooting a senior portrait, consider shooting outdoors or at a location that really shows the personality of your subject. If you are shooting a business professional shot, consider shooting just outside the office building or near the office sign.

Even if you don’t have a specific location in mind, pay close attention to the background in a picture. it will determine the feel of the photo. For portraits consider a background that will make your subject stand out, look for interesting colors or textures when location scouting. In the above photo the girl stands out with her blue top and blonde hair against the green textured background.

Portrait with shallow depth of field on a brick background that creates the illusion depth. Subject: Ira McIntosh, Junior vocal performance major, Whitworth University.

Play with perspective in your background. Look for things in the background that will create lines which add depth to your photo. This can also be a good time to use a shallow depth of field to draw the focus to your subject.

When shooting a portrait, if you do not have an external flash, do not use the pop-up flash on your camera. Just don’t do it. If you need a flash, find a better and brighter location. The effect of the flash will be too harsh on a person’s face and will not produce a flattering image. With portraits you want the sharpest image possible.

The Pose

Once you’ve determined the appropriate location for the portrait it’s time to pose your subject. Ask them if they have any poses that they would like to try. Working with your subject is important so they get a product they like. Before the shoot, ask the subject to find examples of other poses they have liked and would like to duplicate.

Pose your subject in such a way that they feel relaxed and look natural. Awkward poses make for awkward pictures (more examples of awkward pictures can be found here). Always pose your subject at a slight angle. The straight on shot is almost never flattering. If you want someone’s face to be shot straight on, consider having them angle their body slightly but then turn their face toward you.

If you’re worried about how to pose your subjects, educate yourself. Search through the work of other photographers and use inspiration from how they posed their subject. Tutorials are also useful as well.

I had a portrait assignment in my photojournalism class and I decided to photograph a friend of mine as if he were a businessman. I had never really posed a male for a portrait before so before the shoot I educated myself on the best ways to pose a man.

Standard flattering pose that creates depth with the lines of the shelves. Subject: Kurt Barneson, Junior accounting and business management double major, Whitworth University.

I ended up telling him exactly how to stand. One foot behind the other, weight mostly on back foot. Arms crossed comfortably in front, chest wide, head held high and proud. This particular pose created a long line that made my already tall subject look taller, confident and professional which is exactly what I wanted.

The Smile

People who have their picture taken can be posed in the most flattering way possible with perfect lighting that highlights their best features, but they can hate their smile.

To get the best smile from your subject, your subject has to be comfortable. So don’t just pull out your camera, point to where they should stand and start shooting. Talk to them and make them feel comfortable. Let them know what you are doing and ask them for their input. This will put your subject at ease and cause them to give off a more natural and relaxed feel.

The best smiles also come from people who are laughing. So make your subject laugh, crack jokes and don’t be afraid to be a little silly yourself. Try and watch their laugh and shoot the picture as they laugh.

One more tip to help tired eyes that have been posing for a long time is to have your subject close their eyes right up until you take the picture. Opening the eyes at the last second will give their eyes a fresh look and will give their eyes a break.

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Rear curtain sync. This may sound like a term you might hear in the theater but really it’s a nifty feature that all DSLRs will have. This is a feature that you will find under the flash settings for your camera. This is applicable for the pop-up flash as well as a hot shoe flash.

When the flash on your camera fires, it fires at the beginning of the exposure by default. This stops the action where it is at that time. However if your exposure is a little longer, perhaps half a second or more, motion from your subject will only blur out the effects of the flash in the first place.

The rear curtain sync feature fires the flash at the end of your exposure. This will catch motion blur, but then also catch your subject clearly in action. This usually leaves the effect of the motion blur trailing behind the subject, which is usually the desired effect anyway.

Here is a good visual demonstration that has an accompanying graphic to explain the timing of the flash. Knowing how your camera works is just as important as knowing how to work it. Once you understand little intricacies of your camera you will be able to make your camera work in a more effective way. If this idea doesn’t quite make sense yet, do some more reading on it to get a better idea of what it means. This is a simple breakdown of flash techniques that I found was easy to understand.

Want to see some more examples of the rear curtain sync effect? Google the effect or look it up on websites like flickr or stock photo sites.

In this gallery there are examples of shots I took using the rear curtain sync effect. It is especially apparent in the shot of the bass player’s hand. you notice the motion blur but also the tack sharp image. I also found this example on flickr of the effect. This is not my photo, but you can see how the shot of the girl is sharp but the motion blur follows her. Using the rear curtain effect allows you to capture the motion blur first and the subject second.

The default setting on most cameras is to have the flash fire at the beginning of the exposure. However this is easily fixed. Some cameras may have the flash mode settings in the menu but you will have to discover where yours is. On my Nikon D40 to change the flash mode, you have to hold down the button that would normally make the on-camera flash pop-up and then scroll the wheel. Adjusting the flash mode will be different on each camera, but all you have to do is read the manual to discover how to work your precise model.

Personally, after I learned about this effect I set my camera on rear-curtain sync and have yet to change it back to normal. For fast shutter speeds it makes no difference. Only for shots that involve motion blur does it matter. This effect is useful for artistic shots, more dynamic looking journalistic shots, it’s good for dances and other night-time photography as well.

 

Worms and birds up close

One of the quickest and easiest way to make your photos more dynamic is to play with  perspective. My professor Kirk Hirota always said,” avoid the 5’7″ effect.”

What he meant was, don’t take a picture just standing there. Show people something they wouldn’t necessarily see for themselves. By changing perspective, people will be more intrigued by your photos. Ways to enhance your photos:

Worm's eye perspective on the side of a building in downtown Spokane

Worm’s eye view

This means point your camera up. Do you see something different from before? What if you stood next to your subject and shot up? What if you sat on the ground (look out for worms :P) and shot up? Changing these things around will change the point of view in your photos and give your viewers something they’ve never seen before. This picture here is the side of a building in downtown Spokane shot while I was standing right up against the building pointing my camera up.

Bird’s eye view

Bird's eye view of coffee at Pleasant Blends

Point your camera down. Get above your subject, stand on a chair, shoot from a balcony looking down. Even try holding your camera parallel to the ground and taking that picture.

This shot I took for my class when we featured Pleasant Blends coffee-house. This shot is slightly more dynamic than a boring shot of a coffee cup.

Chipmunk at Yellowstone

Get closer

If there’s one thing that has been pounded into my head, in classes, on the newspaper, or anywhere else. This is it. Focus on the details and find the intricate parts that no one notices. I like to look for cool textures or designs.

Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty. Some of the best pictures I have ever taken were shot while lying on the ground or sitting in the dirt. I once shot football and nearly got hit by several 250lb football players while taking pictures. Be bold and try not to focus on what other people think. The chances are, they probably won’t even notice, in fact, they’ll probably think that you look like a pro. If you act like you know what you’re doing, people will always assume that you do.

I took a picture of this chipmunk at Yellowstone. To get it I literally crouched down in the dirt and sat there until he came close enough to me. Then I took advantage of the zoom on my lens and snapped this shot. A couple of people that had seen me do this came up to me and asked to see the picture I took.

Stopping the action

Seagull at Riverfront Park

Sports, animals, boiling mud. They are all hard to shoot for the same reason. In the previous post I talked about motion blur, now I draw your attention to the opposite problem: stopping the action. The key to stopping the action is a fast shutter speed and a lot of light. The faster the shutter speed the sharper the photo.If you have a flash. this is the time to use it. If you don’t know how to use it. Read the strobist blog, he has a lot of good tips.

It is important to understand your subject to get the best shot. For sports, know what’s going on. Kirk Hirota, photo advisor for the Whitworthian always tells the staffers that it’s important to know how the sport you are shooting is played. This will help you be able to predict with some accuracy when the best shot will be. This photo was good because I understood how basketball was played so I had an idea of when good opportunities to get pictures of the player’s face would be.

High School basketball state playoffs

This goes for other things too. When shooting anything else, study how your subject moves to predict when to get the best shot. In the case of this seagull, I watched it fly around for a little bit and realized that the best angle would be when it was flying right past me, so I waited for that moment. I must also say that I took about 35 photos before I got this photo that I liked the best.

In this picture of boiling mud at Yellowstone National Park, the mud looked like boiling oatmeal as you can see here. I had to watch the way the mud boiled and wait for the right time to click the shutter.

As with any new skill it is important to practice, but a little practical understanding can be just as important in the long run.

Mud pot at Yellowstone National Park

Looff carousel at Riverfront Park

Have you ever seen cool motion blur pictures like this one and wondered how it was done? The truth is, you don’t need expensive equipment to take such a picture. All you need is a way to stabilize your camera.

In the case of this photo of the Looff Carousel in Spokane’s Riverfront park. I set my camera on a railing and held it there. The key with motion blur photos is to keep your camera still and let the subject move in front of it. This will create the desired motion blurring effect.

The shutter speed will be slower than normal and will vary depending on your subject and how much motion there is to capture. If you are shooting in a situation with a lot of light you may have to change the aperture to get the best exposed photo. Remember, the perfect picture is like an equation, if you change one part of it, you must change another to compensate for it. If you drag the shutter speed, you may have to raise the aperture.

If you are in a situation where you cannot fond a stable surface to set your camera and don’t have a tripod, I have found that sitting on the ground with my knees bent up towards my face provides a relatively stable place to set my camera. If you do employ this tactic it may be a good idea to set your camera on timer mode while you are stabilizing it to avoid the camera shaking even a little bit when you click the shutter button.

Another fun effect to play around with is zooming the lens while you take the picture. If you are shooting something stable this can create an effect like the picture below. I held the camera in one place and zoomed out as the shutter was open. Taking cool pictures isn’t hard and does not require expensive equipment. All it takes is a few tips and a little bit of practice and you’ll be able to wow your friends with your cool new pictures. Be creative, look for things that you wouldn’t normally think about. For example, My uncle had a light up yo-yo that he was using one night so I tested it out and got this.

Yo-yo at night in a time exposure

Ninja photo, complete with pose.

Now that you’ve invested in a nice new camera, it’s time to take advantage of it. One completely free and easy way to do that is through ninja photos. Ninja photos can be a lot of fun for you and your friends and are a great way to spend an evening. There are some tips to getting the perfect ninja photo.

Preparation is key. You must pre-meter for every shot. That means that you have put your camera on manual and have set the aperture and shutter speed already. The faster the shutter speed, the better your photo will be.

Which leads to the next point. Unless you are shooting in bright sunlight, flash is a must. Use of the flash will get you the photo you want.

Your subject. They must be standing on the edge of a couch or chair for the best effect. It helps if the couch is just out of the frame so it does not show up in the picture, if it does, you can always crop it out in post production. As such, your subject will need to jump high enough off the couch to get the best effect.

You as the photographer must be as low to the ground as possible. Preferable sitting on the ground or setting your camera on the ground pointing up. This angle increases the effect that the person is suspended in the air above you. When I shoot these photos I lay on the ground on my back and point my camera straight up.

When it comes time to shoot, count down and have your subject leap on your count as high as they can striking a pose midair and holding it as long as possible. Before they jump though. have your camera focused. This could mean putting your lens on manual mode or depressing your shutter button half way. You don’t have time for your lens to autofocus while someone is jumping in the air.

Follow these simple steps and you will get awesome photos that your friends can’t wait to set as their default on Facebook.

Ninja photo. With prop.

Ninja photo. With prop.

Also. Props are encouraged.

Photography can be a lot of fun. Filters are a cheap way to play around with different effects in your shooting. Some filters like the UV filter have little to no effect on your picture but are a must have for every lens because they provide an added layer of protection between the glass and harmful substances.

Some filters provide more functional uses. The circular polarizer is useful for shots in direct sunlight. It helps reduce and sometimes eliminates glare and extra light.

However some filters have a less practical use, but are still fin to experiment with and are relatively inexpensive. One filter I have experimented with is the star filter. The star filter makes spots of light look like stars. There are variations on this filter, but they tend to produce similar effects. A basic star filter can cost as little as ten dollars and is an inexpensive way to have a little fun with your new camera. This is an example of the star filter in action.

Christmas tree shot through star filter

Filters can also be layered. Here is a picture of the same Christmas tree with the star filter and a fog filter layered on top of each other. The fog filter gives the effect of shooting through fog and makes the subject hazy and gives the photo a mysterious look sometimes.

Christmas tree shot through star filter and fog filter.

A little girl gets off an inflatable slide on a soggy Fourth of July day.

I have shot photos for the Whitworthian for three years now and have encountered some unique problems.The northwest gets quite a bit of rain and sometimes it’s just unavoidable when shooting.

One problem I’ve had many times is shooting soccer or football in the rain, it is not only rainy but also darker than most clear days. I shot this photo this summer on the Fourth of July when I was shooting for the Sammamish Review. It was pouring down rain all day. Sometimes it was too rainy for me to shoot at all, I just tried to look for a time when the rain died down and then I went on a hunt for water-soaked kids that would make good subjects.

When shooting in the rain, it is important to keep your equipment as dry as possible to avoid damage to your gear and fog on your glass. The most effective tactic for keeping your stuff dry is a small hand towel, golf towel or wash cloth. You drape it over top of your lens and body and you’re set. If you are able to rubber band it to the lens(works especially well for longer lenses) it’s even better. If there is a lull in shooting I would suggest putting the camera inside your jacket as much as possible to save it from the elements.

When you’re outside in the rain it is significantly darker than a typical sunny day so you will have to adjust your settings accordingly. If you’re shooting sports, raising your ISO may be your only option in order to get a well exposed photo if your shutter speed isn’t slow enough. Once again though, practice, practice, practice. Determine what works best for what conditions and remember it.

I would also recommend that for cold outdoor shooting every shooter be equipped with a pair of thin knit gloves. You can get them cheap at places like Target or Wal-Mart. They may not be that warm but they will add some warmth as well as allow you to still operate the features on your camera which most gloves will hinder.

If things get particularly rainy but you still need to get the shots, maybe as a friend to hold an umbrella while you fire off a few frames or find a covered places to shoot from. Just remember to always be smart when shooting in the rain. Only do it if you can’ avoid damage to your gear. After you get back inside, inspect your camera to see if there are any wet spots you missed and dry it out as soon as possible. Remember that DSLRs are not waterproof and require a great deal of care.

Maneuvering Manual

Photography doesn’t have to be rocket science. A DSLR may look complicated on the outside, but really it’s not so hard once you take time to get to know your camera.

One of the best modes to understand on your camera is Manual, usually signified with an “M.” This mode lets you set all of the settings yourself which means that you are in complete control. While all settings are important, some are more important than others. The most important things to understand are aperture (also the same as f-stop), shutter speed and ISO. When balanced all three elements combine to make the perfect exposure. The best illustration I’ve ever seen for this concept is a math equation:

Aperture + Shutter speed + ISO = perfect exposure

The central idea is, if you change one element of the equation, you have to balance the changes in another part of the equation to get a perfectly exposed photograph.

Shutter speed refers to how fast the shutter opens and closes. The faster the shutter speed, the better the camera can clearly capture motion. Shutter speed is measure in seconds, or usually fractions of a second.

The aperture refers to the size of the hole that lets in light when the shutter opens. The larger the opening the more light is let in. Ironically, lower numbers signify a larger opening. The size of the opening should be adjusted based on how much available light you have.

The ISO is a term left over from film cameras. It referred to the film speed in film cameras, but in digital cameras is refers to light sensitivity of the censor that takes the picture. Generally the lower the ISO the higher quality the photograph is, however sometimes there is not a whole lot of available light so you have to bump up the ISO to get a better lit photo. This will sacrifice quality and clarity in your photo however so you will have to adjust your aperture and shutter speed accordingly.

To better understand the concept you will need to apply this yourself. Experiment with different settings and shoot pictures in different settings. If you are still unclear about how each aspect affects the other, go to this sim cam that will let you experiment by changing the settings on the virtual camera.

Each setting you will shoot in will present its own unique problem. For example in this picture of Mt. Rainier  it was a very sunny day so I had to shorten my shutter speed and bump up my aperture to get a nicely exposed photo.

Photography is learned best by doing, so get out your camera and go to it. Thanks to digital photography, you can make as many mistakes as you want!