Simple Ways to Improve Your Travel Portraits

Photographing people is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of photography. Besides the great photos that you can acquire, for me it also means building a connection with a country and its many different kinds of people. Taking portraits of people means you need to get up close, and sometimes communicate with them, so you need to get over your shyness. Whether it’s a smile and pointing to your camera, or simply getting by with limited language, it’s incredible how receptive people are when you put in the effort.

Here are some simple tips once you’re ready to start photographing travel portraits:

Keep the Eyes Sharp
It doesn’t matter if the other features of their face are not in focus; if the eyes are not sharp your image will look blurred and won’t work. The ideal focal-length lens for photographing portrait is 80mm-105mm (hence why these lenses are often called portrait lenses). Aim to set your shutter speed to at least 1/125th of a second (faster if you can) to ensure there is no camera shake. A wide aperture of f/2-5.6 will ensure you have a nice blurred background, to draw the viewer to the face of your subject.

Ensure that the eyes of your subject are sharp.
Think About the Light
In any form of photography, light is one of the most important elements of the photo. Overcast days are ideal for portraits outdoors as it offers a soft, even light, whereas strong sun on the person’s face will cause harsh shadows to appear. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking portraits in this light, but you may need to think more about your composition. For example, you may want to show more of the person’s clothing to distract the viewer from their face, or you could use a flash to fill in the shadows. Sometimes the harsh shadows could actually enhance the photo by making it feel grittier.

Cloudy and overcast days help ensure you get even lighting.
What’s in the Background
The most important element of head and shoulder portraits is a person’s face, so the viewer shouldn’t be distracted by elements around, or behind it. Avoid bright colours or strong patterns and designs in the background. Also, by having a wide aperture you can ensure the background is blurred which highlights the sharp parts of the photo even more (i.e. the eyes).

Clean backgrounds help make your subject stand out.
Art Direct Your Subject
Sometimes the difference between a portrait that works, and one that doesn’t, is just a few steps to the left or right, or it could be just stepping back into the shade rather than in direct sun. Sometimes simply moving a hand toward, or away from the face, can make a huge difference to the photo. So don’t be afraid to direct your model as to where, and how you want them to stand. Don’t worry if you don’t speak their language, a simple smile and pointing usually does the trick.

This woman was standing in the sun so I simply moved her back a few steps so that I wasn’t getting harsh shadows on her face.
Keep Your Model Relaxed
Unless your model is a professional, chances are they are nervous and self-conscious about having their photo taken. So try to get them to relax if they look tense. Simply making them laugh can make a huge difference, and you’ll see that in your photos.

This woman was really nervous so I waited until she was distracted before taking the photo.
What is wonderful about portraits is that they can feel incredibly intimate and personal, and a great portrait will look fantastic in any portfolio. But the other great thing about portraits is that it is incredibly easy to practice. Friends, family and even colleagues, if willing, are all you need to practice so that you are ready for when you are on location or travelling.

Tips to Use Hard Lighting to Create a Dramatic Portrait

When was the last time you did not primarily light your scene using a large soft source, such as a soft box or umbrella? Large soft sources easily create a beautiful, wrap-around quality of light. Just pop one up and you have instant “good” light.

Though soft light is beautiful and has its place, it represents only one part of the artist’s palette. In this article we are going to dissect the lighting setup for a men’s fashion shoot, and look at how using hard light can add dramatic impact to your photographs.

I think two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler said it best when it came to using hard light:

“Everybody should still work in hard light as well. Not to do it and to say that it has to be all soft light is like throwing away part of the artist’s palette. I think the more variety you can have, the better it will look. To be able to light well in hard light makes the soft lighting a piece of cake, because soft light is very forgiving. Soft light, uncontrolled, is still acceptable photographically. It is really hard for soft light to look bad, but it is really not hard for hard light to look bad.”

The feel the magazine wanted was a dramatic, high-contrast look. One of the problems with soft light is that it can be hard to control and can easily kill the contrast of your scene – especially in small spaces. The location for our shoot just so happened to be one of those small spaces, so I decided that reflectors and honeycomb grids were the best tools for the job.

In the pre-planning phase, I chose to use a simple three light setup which included a key light, a fill light and kicker. I had room on camera left to place the main key light, but did not have much room for a kicker opposite camera right; however, there was a window.

As luck had it, the office window overlooked a back patio that had electrical outlets, so I did not have to rely on a battery pack or generator. The only problem was that the patio was a lower in elevation than the office window, so I had to extend my 13′ light stand up to its near maximum height.

To secure the stand, I fastened several 10 pound ankle weights to the legs. Ankle weights are a great and inexpensive alternative to sandbags. The set I use cost about $20 at Walmart, and came with Velcro straps for easy attachment to light stands or boom arms.

Since the strobe was outside the window and placed a distance from the model, I attached a radio slave and set it to full power. (The strobe was rated at 600ws)

Back in the office, I took a meter reading using a light meter with the dome retracted and pointed towards the light. The meter gave me a reading of f/5.6 at ISO 100. I decided the reading would be a good base to build my lighting ratios, so I set my camera to f/5.6 at ISO 100. As far as the shutter speed, I set my camera to 1/160th of a second because I did not want to capture a lot of ambient light. When using strobes, the shutter speed only controls the brightness of the ambient light.

This first light would act as the kicker light, in the scene.

Kicker light placement
Position of the kicker light
Kicker test shot
Test shot of the model with just the kicker light
When lighting with hard lights, you will often find the need to bring up the shadows, since they can easily go black. A large soft light source, placed close to the camera, is great for filling in shadow areas, because it resembles directionless ambient light.

The fill light in our scene was fitted with a medium soft box and placed behind and slightly to the right of the camera.

Since most of the elements in the scene were dark brown, including the suit the model was going to wear, I could not set my fill light much lower than my base exposure of f/5.6. If I had set it lower the elements in the shadow areas would quickly go black. I set the fill light to 1 1/3 stop lower than my base exposure, which read f/3.5 on my light meter.

You may have noticed that the key light on the left side of the model’s face does not appear as bright as the window kicker light on the right side of his face, despite it being one stop brighter (left: f/8 vs right: f/5.6) This is because the kicker is placed more behind the subject, while the key light is placed more towards the side. You might have heard the photography term “the angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence”? This is basically that principle in action. Since the kicker light is slightly behind the model, the angle at which the light is being reflected off the skin is causing the highlight to appear brighter.

Once the lighting was in place, the model was dressed and the shoot began.

A nice benefit of the positioning of the key and kicker lights was that they pulled double-duty, switching roles whenever the model turned his head. A nice short lighting pattern was created, whichever direction he faced. You can see this in the variations above and below.

In closing, I would encourage you to think of creative ways to use and experiment with hard lighting in your photographs. Hard lighting is not just limited to men. The photo below was lit in the same fashion as the photo of the male model. A word of caution, though. Hard light is unforgiving when it comes to wrinkles and blemishes, so you will have to be very careful with your light positioning when your are lighting women.

Some Tips For Doing Eye Catching Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is everywhere today and for good reason – the world is beautiful! However, because landscape photography is so popular, it can be difficult for your photographs to grab the eyes of your desired viewers. While there’s no way to predict exactly what image will stand out in the crowd, you can use these four techniques to give your photography the edge when it comes time to grab some eyes.

Landscape Photography

#1. Define your vision
As a photographer you are not only taking a photograph, you are sharing a vision – your vision. It’s important to remember this concept every time you’re capturing an image. This is important because if you are aware of why you’re attracted to a scene, and why you want to share it with others, the easier it will be for your viewers to connect with what you saw.

This does not mean that you have to stick with the same definition of vision through every photograph you take. Instead, you should try to adapt and evolve your vision each time you go out to take photographs. Letting your experiences influence the choices you make in your photography will allow your photography to express your individuality as a person.

Landscape Photography

It’s easy to see a beautiful landscape and take a photograph of what you see, but that is often not enough to grab the eye of your viewer. After you’ve defined your vision for a specific photograph it’s time to answer some questions about the perspective you wish to convey.

Do you want to photograph from a low angle or from above the scene? Are you thinking of using a super wide-angle lens or would your scene be better suited for the compressed look of a telephoto? You can even begin to think about what type of post-production techniques you will use. Will it be HDR, black and white, vibrant and saturated, or muted?

Each photograph you take is going to be unique in its answers to these questions. There’s no one-answer-fits-all solution here, it’s just a matter of finding out what works and learning from experiences over time.

Landscape Photography

If you’re going to overexpose a photograph, have a reason why. If you’re going to post-process an image using the HDR technique be sure do it because it makes sense, not because you want it to be HDR. Making purposeful decisions in your photography will make every photograph you take better.

In regards to post-production in general, be sure to use it as a tool to elevate your great photographs to the next level, and not to save your misfires from the trashcan. Post-production is not what makes a photograph great, it can only enhance an already great photograph allowing it to stand out, above the crowd.

Landscape Photography

Finally, a boring landscape, shot in bad light, with the wrong techniques is not going to win any love from the peanut gallery so brush up on the basics first. Learning how to photograph in the right lighting conditions, how to properly use a tripod, and how to achieve the perfect exposure of your scene will allow you to create more eye-catching photographs.

Successful Preparing Tips for Client Photo Session

“Watch out”, she yelled a little too late as I slipped on an icy patch of snow and tumbled unceremoniously, almost flat on my face. The first thought racing through my head was, “My camera! Please God let nothing happen to my camera!”. Had I researched the location and the weather prior to my photoshoot, I would have realized that the temperatures had dipped quite a bit the night before, freezing the melting snow on the ground. A few hundred dollars later (my lens took the brunt of my fall and the focus ring got dislodged) with my ego a little bruised, I now always check the weather report before I head out. My car is my traveling studio and has everything I would ever need for any type of situation – photography related or otherwise!

Digital Photography School Preparing for your client photoshoot Memorable Jaunts

No matter what your level of photography expertise, a little anxiety or nervousness before a client photo session is very normal and typical. But with a little preparation ahead of time, you can reduce the anxiety, be confident that you have prepared for almost any eventuality, and actually have fun with your clients. I agree that preparations takes on different meaning for different types of client sessions – these are basic guidelines.

#1 Equipment related preparations
This is almost a no-brainer, but something that needs to be reiterated every single time. Recharge camera batteries, reformat memory cards, and clean lenses and cameras. Always carry spare batteries and extra cards. If you are going to be out for the whole day, carry your battery charger. You never know where you might find an electrical outlet, and those few extra seconds of battery life might just come in handy. I am very particular in downloading my images as soon as I get home from a client session. But that does not always happen, and there have been a couple of times where I had images on my card from prior shoots. There is nothing more unnerving than trying to remember if you have downloaded old images (or not) in front of your clients who are ready to be photographed.

#2 Location related preparations
Being a wedding and family photographer in Chicago means I have to deal with different types of clients, with different needs and expectations. Plus, weather is a huge factor in scheduling photo sessions. I am a natural light, outdoor photographer – that is what I do best. In a pinch, I will photograph indoors but that is not my first choice.

For family photo sessions, I have a few locations where I am very comfortable photographing. Those are my go-to location recommendations for my clients but every once in a while, I will get a client who wants to dictate the location. It could be a special place with special memories. This is where google maps comes in very handy. If it’s a local spot close to home, I will scope out the location prior to the shoot. But that is not always practical, especially with out of town weddings and engagement sessions, so I rely on google maps (any similar map tool will also do). Additionally ask around. I belong to several online groups of photographers and often times a quick question to the group gets me all the information I need about a particular location.

#3 Business related – contracts, model releases and questionnaires
This might be different based on your own photography business, but generally having a contract and a model release is advisable. This helps in level setting for both parties. My workflow is such that clients are required to sign a contract and a model release form prior to the actual session. But life does get in the way and sometimes they forget. I always carry spare model release forms with me – clients are more than happy to sign the forms at the end of session rather than having to go back home and mail out the materials. With my wedding photography clients, I have the couple fill out a detailed questionnaire – this has specifics like names, relationships of people in the wedding party and wedding photo shot list. The more details I can get from the bride, the better prepared I am, even before the main event.

#4 Visualize and plan your poses
A little preparation goes a long way! Hopefully by following the above tips, you are feeling confident and prepared for the photo shoot. Take it a step further and visualize your session even before it happens. Research poses and looks you want to capture that are a true representation of your work. Mentally walk through the shoot. Having an idea of what, when and where will really help you create a road map of how you want to execute the shoot.

It is also okay to write down must-have poses and shots, and refer to them periodically during the shoot. I always take a few minutes during the shoot to check the back of my camera. I am open and honest with my clients and tell them that I want to make sure I have gotten the shot I visualized. Sometimes I also show them the back of the camera to see what I am seeing. Clients appreciate this feedback and it makes them feel like they are doing the right thing. Happy clients = confident clients = happy photographer! Remember that most clients are not professional models and putting them at ease is as much a part of your job as is taking pictures.

#5 Save the best for last
This goes hand in hand with #4. Most people get very self-conscious when a camera is pointed at them no matter how prepared they are. Often times the first 10 minutes of the shoot are the most awkward and uncomfortable for both parties. Do your best to set them at ease, talk to them from behind the camera, and encouragement them. Since you have pre-visualized your shoot, and also scoped out the location ahead of time, you know the best poses and the best light and location backdrop.

Save this for the last 10-15 minutes of the session. By this time the clients have warmed up to you and the camera and are having a good time. They are more open and receptive to trying out new things ensuring you have the shots that you want.

Of course, there are still a lot of things that can go wrong no matter how prepared you are. The weather might take a sudden turn for the worse, your car might have a flat tire 20 minutes before the session, the family might cancel at the last minute (I speak from experience). The key is to be prepared for all the obvious and apparent ones and just roll with the punches for the things you cannot control.

Should You Know About How to Use Two LED Lights to Achieve Moody Portraits

Any kind of light is a must for photography. You just cannot photograph without light. There are various types of light that no doubt you are familiar with:

– Natural light from the sun
– Ambient light (could be natural or manmade)
– Artificial light such as strobes, incandescent or tungsten, fluorescent, flash and LED lights
– Infrared light

This article will give you tips for using two LED lights to achieve moody portraits.

Tip #1 – Modify your light
The best light is always modified. Even sunlight is better with a diffuser. Direct sunlight produces hard shadows and harsh light. Clouds soften and diffuse sunlight (by making it spread over a larger area). On a bright cloudless day, shooting in open shade minimizes the harshness, but still takes advantage of the beautiful natural light. Shooting in shadows, located next to reflective surfaces, also leverages any bounced natural light. These techniques are simply modifiers of natural and available light.

Modifiers are more obvious for artificial light. There is a plethora of choice when it comes to these: soft boxes, diffusers, reflectors, foam cores panels, umbrellas, flags to name a few.

The same is true for LEDs when it comes to the need for modifiers. There are many types of LED lights, including ones that you can adjust their brightness as well as colour temperature. But, just like the above, regardless of brightness intensity of the continuous light, it is essential to modify LEDs to get soft, pleasing, beautiful light -overall a better quality of light.

I’m going to show you a setup using modified LEDs to create moody portraits.

Using a window to camera left and an LED, bounced into a diffusion panel, to the right.

The main light I used here is the Magic Tube, the cheaper alternative to Westcott Ice Light. You can adjust the brightness of the light, and it comes with a tungsten gel if you need it. Apart from looking lightsaber Star Wars cool, the Magic Tube also comes with a charger that allows continuous charging while it is being used. So you can always have access to power by just plugging it in if the battery charge runs out.

You can also use window light and just one LED for this setup. Substitute the main light with your window light, but make sure you are diffusing the light coming from a window with a sheer voile, or fabric to soften it.

To diffuse the main light, I covered it with the Rogue Bender diffuser for the strip light. This is just a piece of rectangular translucent material which simply covers the light.

Tip #2 – Position your lights for contrast
Position the main light at 45 degrees to the subject, up high to emulate light coming from a tall window. Use a diffusion panel or a piece of sheer fabric. The less opaque the fabric, the more diffuse your light will be. To further modify the Magic Tube after I have attached the Rogue Bender diffuser, I also used the diffusion (translucent part) panel of a 5-in-1 reflector and had an assistant hold the panel in front of the main light. Having these two diffusers together reduces the strength of the light, but also greatly softens its quality.

The second light is also an LED, this time a small video light positioned to camera right, at 45 degrees, but at the same height as the subject. However, instead of using a diffuser to modify this light, you can turn it around so the light faces away from the subject, and put a reflector in place to bounce the light on. The subject (filling in the shadows) gets illuminated by the soft bounced light from the reflector.

For a moody look it is essential to have both light and shadow in the portrait. You need to watch where the main light falls, and the shadow it’s creating. You want the shadowed area to still have some detail, instead of being completely black. The bounced light from the reflector takes care of this.

Tip #3 – Use a dark background
I tried the exact same setup, although the lights were positioned the opposite way, with the main light on camera right. This setup had a lighter background, in this case lightly patterned, and the results were far from moody. I did not want to shoot at a smaller aperture as I wanted to blur the pattern of the wallpaper in the background. I also wanted to emulate sunlight shining through a window illuminating a dark room, and this setup just did not work to achieve that look.

I’m sure if I had gridded the main LED to avoid spill into the light background, while increasing my shutter speed, the background would have gone darker, but I would have lost the soft and atmospheric look I was after. Compare this photo below to the one underneath it, and it’s pretty obvious the darker background is most definitely better at achieving the moody look.

Some Beginner Tips for Doing Architecture Photography

The first thought you will want to steer clear of is that architecture means buildings, as it actually encompasses most man-made structures. Architectural photography involves capturing an image of a physical structure in an aesthetically pleasing way for your viewers. Here are a few tips to consider if you are just getting into this category of photography.

1. Gear Up
In any genre of photography, the right gear makes the difference and this also holds true for architectural photography.
If you want to get an entire structure or room into your frame or opt for a dramatic composition, pack a wide-angle lens in your bag.

Keep in mind that there will be times when even a wide angle lens may not be adequate to capture an enormous structure or a sense of place – here the knowledge of shooting panoramic images can come in handy.

On the flip side, you may not want to show everything and just focus on some interesting details. Pack a zoom lens to capture those details which help to convey the more ornate and interesting characteristics of architecture.
Also, a telephoto lens allows shooting your subject from further away and can help a building’s walls and lines appear straighter (with less distortion).

2. Compose Yourself
Interesting architectural photography benefits from good composition. While distortion can add drama and lend to that artistic feel, buildings leaning backwards or looking too distorted can be less appealing. Always consider your angles and how you want to convey your subject.

Photographers who specialize in architectural photography find themselves correcting skews in the post-processing phase or invest in a tilt-shift lens to avoid distortion in the first place.

If you are starting out and want to play around with the dramatic feel, you can shoot from lower or higher angles to maximize the disfigurement. Remember while doing this can be interesting, it is recommended to reduce the effect so that it is not too distracting.

Move around and try different angles – shoot straight up, get closer or further away, go low to the ground or higher than the building if possible and see what enhances your architecture.

3. Lighting
A major challenge with architectural photography is that you have no control over the position and orientation of the subject (especially when it comes to buildings), so most times you have to make the most the available light.

One of the most interesting (and recommended) lighting options for buildings is when light falls on its side and front (side-front lighting). This angle of lighting provides a decent amount of illumination and can cast interesting shadows across the face of a building, which gives it a more three-dimensional look. So scout out your location at different times and see how the light and shadows change the look and feel of your image.

Be wary with strong back lighting when shooting buildings since it can create uniform dark surfaces, unless you are going for that silhouetted look. Again the time of day comes into play and if the structure itself has lights, it adds to the photo.

Alternatively, you can shoot at night. Many buildings and cities are designed with night time in mind. Even bridges, sculptures, and windmills can be interesting pieces to photograph after dark. Look for color and the way the buildings are lit and use a tripod!

4. Time Investments
As noted there is little control over large-scale lighting on existing grand architecture, so work with the light that is already there. You can do this effectively by investing time to determine what light is most flattering.

Does the building look better in the morning sun or at sunset? How about at night – is it lit or does it make a great silhouette? Are there interesting reflections in the daytime or a lot of texture to capture? Remember that different times of the day and varying weather conditions can change the mood of your architecture.

Architectural photography is interesting and can be quite exciting. Give yourself time to see architecture from alternate angles, at different times of the day and study it long enough to know what you want your end result to be. Invest the time – it can be worth it.

Best Tips for Incredible Headshots Every Time

Headshots are arguably the unsung heroes of the photography world. They’re everywhere, from social media profiles and advertisements to portfolios and hanging on the walls of the home. These carefully crafted images didn’t take themselves, though.

If your headshot skills are a little wanting, there are a few tips you could take to improve your game. If you’re after magnificent snaps, for personal or professional reasons, follow these steps for a perfect shot every time.

1. Let the eyes be the stars
Eyes headshot tips

As cliché as it may sound, eyes really are the windows to the soul. By creating a clear focus on them, this is a world of opportunities that can instantly draw in the attention of a viewer. If you want to capture a certain emotion it’s easy to do so.

Depending on the intended use of the images, you can convey a specific message. Want to create a professional looking photo? Focus on welcoming eyes that encourage contact. After a serious acting portfolio? Concentrate on targeting a stern appearance stemming from the eyes.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different poses, eye positioning, and lighting. After a few shots, you’ll know exactly what to do.

2. Think about light

It may sound rather obvious, but light can create a number of different variations of the same photo. The best photographers know how to use light to their advantage and create excellent works of art.

Again, this is largely dependent on the purpose of the shoot. Natural light and the outdoors are great for showcasing a genuine feel. Natural light can be powerful for achieving real-life situation photos. It will also allow you to grab an honest and genuine aura of the person.

Artificial or studio light is an exceptional tool for providing a highly professional end result. You’ll be able to inject light where you see fit, creating a photo that screams professionalism. This is probably the better option for taking corporate headshots as it allows for a uniform lighting pattern amongst a team.

3. The lens is key

You’re probably very familiar with your lenses but with so many available, it can sometimes be difficult to know which one will work for each shot. Generally speaking, headshots aim to achieve two things. Compliment the subject and grab a clear and concise image.

Even the best lenses on the market are vulnerable to distortion if used in the wrong way. Mid to wide angle options are best avoided, as headshots are taken within a fairly close range to the subject (they will create facial distortion).

Using a 90mm or longer telephoto lens will let you capture a stunningly clear image, with the added benefit of slimming the face, which most subjects would be thrilled with.

4. Capture the mood with your background

Pathetic fallacy works on so many levels. Primarily used as a literary term for setting a mood or humanizing elements, the same criteria can be applied to the camera.

If your shoot is outdoors, you don’t have to do too much to convey the message. Typically speaking, you wouldn’t capture a happy face in the rain unless you were doing a contrast shoot. You’d wait until the weather brightens up and use the environment to further enhance the purpose of the image.

Healthy trees and plants have lively connotations; a park can showcase a playful personality. There are literally thousands of ways you can use a backdrop to strengthen your headshots. Just be careful that the attention isn’t taken away from the subject, though.

5. Live the shoot as a director

As a photographer, you’re essentially the director of a film split into still photographs. This might not be completely for your benefit, but you’re the one who knows exactly how it should be done.

Of course, it’s important to listen to the subject’s requirements, but from there you are the captain. Dictate how the shoot goes. Explore different angles. You are the professional after all.

You’ll be working together to achieve the end goal. With your direction, knowledge, and experience, you’ll both get the best possible results.

It’s easy once you know how
Headshots are among the trickiest photographs to capture. A demand for perfection is there almost every single time. With so many variants to take into account, what works for one shoot may be completely wrong for another.

With a little thought and by leaning on your expertise, you’ll get incredible results. You’ll produce your best work and the subject will be more than happy. Everybody wins.

Some Tips for Photographing Your Child and Their First Moments

Seeing your little one begin to explore their world with their first solid food, crawl on the floor, or enjoy independent playtime is an amazing experience. But, photographing your child and capturing those moments to cherish forever is even more enjoyable!

While you may not always capture the exact the moment a “first” happens, as little ones can be full of surprises, these tips will help you to capture beautiful storytelling images of those moments to look back on for years to come.

1. Be prepared
Anticipation of key moments in your child’s life will come naturally as they grow. An important piece of capturing those first moments is being prepared at all times, with a camera nearby. As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. It doesn’t matter what camera you use, but having it on hand will be paramount to capturing those fleeting firsts.

Oftentimes, I keep my DSLR in my living room, on the mantel, where it’s easily accessible in a moment of activity or at feeding times. It is in the On position ,with ISO settings at the lowest, and the aperture at f/2.8 for a nice shallow depth of field, and one that works with the natural lighting in my living and dining rooms. In addition, my mobile device is always ready in my purse hanging in the living room, or generally nearby in any room I walk into as well.

When something new happens, you can quickly grab your camera and capture the moment!

2. Get on their level
As adults, we often forget what it is like to live so low to the ground. You might find yourself capturing your child’s firsts from the high perspective of standing upright, or from above.

While this isn’t a bad perspective, over time your little one will become aware of your paparazzi-like actions and shy away. Try to get down low while playing, with your camera nearby, and capture the moment from their perspective. Often, they are unaware you are photographing them if you’re on their level, as it doesn’t appear as obvious from a distance than when you might be hovering above.

3. Find your light
If you are planning to take a few photos of your child when you know they might be headed into a first moment, or have done it maybe once before, scope out the scene. Where is the best light coming from? What time of day is best in that room or that location?

You may want to position a toy, or your child, in a certain way to capture the moment with a better angle of light hitting their face for a smile, or backlight them for more of a story. Practicing often before those first moments, in your home with a camera and light angles, helps you to define the best locations and lighting, as well as camera settings to be prepared.

4. Try new locations
Firsts come in all shapes and sizes, as well as for years beyond the first 12 months of life. While most firsts just appear without planning, there are many moments you can create, and prepare for ahead of time.

Eating their first solid food is one you can set-up and plan in advance, as well as capturing their reaction to the first time touching the beautiful plush grass.

Plan to go to a new location and practice your photo, before you bring your child into the setting. Go to the beach at the best time for lighting, or for your child’s energy level, and prepare to photograph the first moment they set foot or fingers in the sand.

5. Tell their story
You know your children the best. You have spent countless hours with them, at all times of the day and night, and can read their responses and personalities the best. As a new parent, you have those gut feelings when something new is about to happen.

When you’re photographing those moments, take time to tell their story. That is the story you’ll want to remember. Their favorite toy, their first moment peeking out the window, or touching the sand or grass. Keep in mind your child’s story, and how you want to tell that story with your images.

In the end, firsts will come and go, but you’ll always have these beautiful storytelling images to share with them as they grow. Being prepared, change your position, lighting, or locations, and remember who your child is at heart, is the key to capturing those amazing moments in your heart and through your lens.

Information About Aperture in Digital Photography

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a series of posts on elements that digital photographers need to learn about in order to get out of Auto mode and learn how to manually set the exposure of their shots. I’ve largely focussed upon three elements of the ‘exposure triangle‘ – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. I’ve previously written about the first two and today would like to turn our attention to Aperture.

Before I start with the explanations let me say this. If you can master aperture you put into your grasp real creative control over your camera. In my opinion – aperture is where a lot of the magic happens in photography and as we’ll see below, changes in it can mean the difference between one dimensional and multi dimensional shots.

What is Aperture?
Put most simply – Aperture is ‘the opening in the lens.’

When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in – the smaller the hole the less light.

Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’.

Aperture Diagram – f-dtops

You’ll often see them referred to here at Digital Photography School as f/number – for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6,f/8,f/22 etc. Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens (and the amount of light getting through). Keep in mind that a change in shutter speed from one stop to the next doubles or halves the amount of light that gets in also – this means if you increase one and decrease the other you let the same amount of light in – very handy to keep in mind).

One thing that causes a lot of new photographers confusion is that large apertures (where lots of light gets through) are given f/stop smaller numbers and smaller apertures (where less light gets through) have larger f-stop numbers. So f/2.8 is in fact a much larger aperture than f/22. It seems the wrong way around when you first hear it but you’ll get the hang of it.

Aperture in photography example.

Depth of Field and Aperture
There are a number of results of changing the aperture of your shots that you’ll want to keep in mind as you consider your setting but the most noticeable one will be the depth of field that your shot will have.

Depth of Field (DOF) is that amount of your shot that will be in focus. Large depth of field means that most of your image will be in focus whether it’s close to your camera or far away. For example the landscape shot above has an aperture of f/16 and the result is that both the mountain in the background and the boats in the foreground remain in focus.

Small (or shallow) depth of field means that only part of the image will be in focus and the rest will be fuzzy (like in the portrait at the top of this post. You’ll see in it that the subjects eyes are in focus but the background is blurred. Even her hair which is only a little behind her eyes is blurred. This is a very shallow depth of field and was taken with an aperture of f1.8).

Similarly this creative birth announcement image was shot at f1.8 and again you see the shallow depth of field with the ultrasound in focus but everything else blurred.

Depth of field example.

Baby Bokeh by Henington on 500px

Here’s one more example with an even wider aperture of f1.2 that leaves the guitar in focus but everything else blurred.

Wider aperture of f1.2 example

Aperture has a big impact upon depth of field. Large aperture (remember it’s a smaller number) will decrease depth of field while small aperture (larger numbers) will give you larger depth of field.

It can be a little confusing at first but the way I remember it is that small numbers mean small DOF and large numbers mean large DOF.

Let me illustrate this with two pictures I took earlier this week in my garden of two flowers.

Side by side aperture depth of field example.

The first picture on the left was taken with an aperture of f/22 and the second one was taken with an aperture of f/2.8. The difference is quite obvious. The f/22 picture has both the flower and the bud in focus and you’re able to make out the shape of the fence and leaves in the background.

The f/2.8 shot on the right has the left flower in focus (or parts of it) but the depth of field is very shallow and the background is thrown out of focus and the bud to the right of the flower is also less in focus due to it being slightly further away from the camera when the shot was taken.

The best way to get your head around aperture is to get your camera out and do some experimenting. Go outside and find a spot where you’ve got items close to you as well as far away and take a series of shots with different aperture settings from the smallest setting to the largest. You’ll quickly see the impact that it can have and the usefulness of being able to control aperture.

Some styles of photography require large depths of field (and small Apertures)
For example in most landscape photography you’ll see small aperture settings (large numbers) selected by photographers. This ensures that from the foreground to the horizon is relatively in focus.

On the other hand in portrait photography it can be very handy to have your subject perfectly in focus but to have a nice blurry background in order to ensure that your subject is the main focal point and that other elements in the shot are not distracting. In this case you’d choose a large aperture (small number) to ensure a shallow depth of field.

Macro photographers tend to be big users of large apertures to ensure that the element of their subject that they are focusing in on totally captures the attention of the viewer of their images while the rest of the image is completely thrown out of focus.

How to Take a Candid Portrait of Somebody You Know

The phrase candid portrait is often used to refer to the type of portrait taken when the subject is unaware of the photographer. This is usually seen in street photography, but also applies in other areas such as documentary style wedding photography.

If you think of a candid portrait as being one that captures someone acting authentically or with a natural expression, as opposed to one where the model has been directed to pose or act in a certain way, then it follows that you can also take candid portraits of people you know. Or even somebody that you don’t know, but have seen in the street and asked for permission to make a portrait.

Here are some tips for taking candid portraits of people with permission.

1. Look for expressions that capture character
If you are taking photos of somebody in a formal situation and you want to capture natural expressions rather than a more forced one (or the sullen expressions preferred by many fashion models) then you need to become a keen observer.A candid portrait

Watch for the moments in-between, the ones where your model is relaxed while you pause before taking another photo. How do they behave while the camera isn’t pointing at them? How do they respond when you talk to them? What expressions do you see when they talk about something that interests or excites them? What unconscious gestures do they make?

I was taking photos of a friend when I noticed that she had a particular gesture that she sometimes made, when the camera wasn’t pointing at her. I waited until it happened again, then asked her to hold the pose while I took the photo (right). The resulting portrait is one of her (and my) favorites from the shoot.

2. Make the most of random encounters
I remember my first evening taking photos in Bolivia. It was late afternoon, quickly fading to dusk, and the streets were lit by a soft red glow, cast by the setting sun.

I raised my camera to take a photo of a mud brick building. From the corner of my eye I saw a small boy running down the street. He passed in front of the camera, stopped, turned towards me, and started waving his hands in the air. He obviously wanted to be in the photo, and a few seconds later he was joined by an older boy, presumably his brother, who also posed for a photo. Then they continued on down the street, and beckoned me to follow them.

Curious, I followed, and they led me to a car parked around the corner, where their father was waiting for them. They explained what had happened, and then the father asked me to take a photo of all of them together. He was a little drunk, and invited me to their house for dinner. I politely declined, although I would have liked to see the look on his wife’s face when I arrived.

When you are traveling and people are being open and friendly like this, take advantage. Be open to random encounters, and the possibilities that can arise from them. At the very least you will have some interesting experiences and new stories to tell.

3. Use a small camera and lens
A friend of mine is an experienced model. I have photographed her with an EOS 5D Mark II and an 85mm lens, which is a fairly large combination. I have also used a Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm lens, which is much smaller. She commented afterwards that the experience was different, and that she felt under much less pressure to be a good model with the smaller camera.
If an experienced model feels this way, then imagine the effect on somebody who is not used to having their photo taken. I’m sure this is one of the reasons that people like to take photos on smartphones, and why the results can be surprisingly good – because the people being photographed feel no pressure to do anything, other than act natural.

The lesson is that camera and lens size matter. Cameras and lenses are tools, and it is up to the photographer to choose the most appropriate one for the job at hand. A smaller set up will help you capture candid portraits, even of people you know.

4. Find a good reason to ask someone if you can make a portrait
If you are not used to asking strangers if you can make a portrait of them, it becomes a lot easier if you can give them a good reason. You don’t always have to search very hard to find one.

For example, a few weeks ago I visited a blacksmith’s forge that uses forging techniques from 100 years ago. The smiths there do demonstrations for the visiting public, and I simply asked if I could take some photos while the smith was doing his demonstration. The result is a very natural portrait of somebody at work.

At carnival in Cadiz earlier this year there were lots of people dressed in costume, but only a few with face paint. When I saw somebody with interesting face paint I asked if I could take a photo (it helps that I speak reasonable Spanish). Each time I explained that I really liked their make-up, the person said yes, and I took a couple of photos.

This is one of the natural expressions I was rewarded with.

5. Undertake a project
Early last year I thought it would be interesting to take some photos of people practicing parkour, and got in touch with some local traceurs through a Facebook group. Two of them in particular were interested in a shoot, so we went out into the streets of Wellington and they showed me some of the things that they do. I took photos and portraits as we went along. It was easy to create candid portraits as well as some action photos, because they were enjoying what they were doing and having fun.

I didn’t think about it until afterwards but now it occurs to me that what we were doing was a form of street photography, just one where I was working in a collaboration, rather than trying to take photos of people without them noticing me. That led to a entirely different set of photos than I could have made if I had seen them doing their thing in the street, and just taken some photos without any form of interaction.

6. Take photos of friends doing interesting things
A friend of mine made her own gypsy caravan to live in. I think this is a fantastic tiny space project, and once it was finished I asked her if I could take some photos of her there. Her natural enthusiasm came across as we talked about it. I asked her to sit outside and play her guitar. While she was absorbed in what she was doing, I made some candid portraits that captured expressions like this.

Do you have any techniques of your own for taking candid or natural portraits of people that you know? I’d love to hear them – please let me know in the comments.