Terms – Soft Focus

A soft focus leaves nothing in sharp focus keeping your subject partially obscured for the viewer’s imagination to fill-in.

Normally in a photo the focus would be sharpest at the point you want the viewer to look. So obviously total focus is not always desirable. Keep this in mind: the human eye will search out a point on which it can rest. The purpose for resting is not important now but to know this is huge.

A resting point for the human eye is important so keep your focal point in context.

Search for yourself and find some examples to illustrate your findings through research.

I have found that the eye is looking for the point with the most detail and least distraction. This leads me to believe that the point closest to fully focused (if properly achieved) should be a type of funnel apex. While this makes the most sense logically it may not always work out as intended because of the effects of lighting, contrast and other factors.

I was once told there were four steps to building habits that can be applied to such things as finding the right portrait locations and photographic practices. These steps are:

  1. Unknowingly ignorant
  2. Consciously ignorant
  3. Consciously implemented
  4. Unknowingly implemented

It is “Okay” to make mistakes. It is “Okay” to even repeat mistakes that you do not know are being made. This is giving you the opportunity to consider a possibility in refining your skill and work. This may be your help to see that you are halfway to being a better photographer!

If you choose to make some changes when mistakes are called to your attention and consciously fix or avoid the problem, you have made it to step 3! Keep it up because all that is necessary for step 4 (unconsciously implementing the solution) is consistent good practice!

Workflow – Part 2

Workflow is a process that details the first step to the last. Setting up a workflow will become an instinct to you, but until then let us catalog and learn the process of priorities. By priorities I mean, by completing the previous step you now have what is required to complete this step and have made available to yourself the tools for the next step.

Taking a small project using the same principles as photo processing will help us explain the process in as few words as possible.

To build a storage shed there must be some decisions made of the size and design. From these decisions an architectural blue print can be made. Now with the blue prints we can make a materials list and go shopping. Do you see the progression? Here is another way of looking at the process:

  1. Design and size
  2. Architectural drawings
  3. Materials list
  4. Materials shopping
  5. Ground breaking and construction

Each step when completed is setting up the success of the following step.

Starting with a new project, what are the signs of the first step?

  1. What is the first puzzle piece? First, set up your end product. How will it look? What are you providing; service or tangible product?
  2. What will you give with this service/product? What else should hold your attention in the phase of “material gathering”?
  3. How many practical steps can be made or planned to affect a clear understanding for everyone involved?

Something I have found invaluable in this process is having a scratch pad and new paper to record both ideas for consideration and decisions leading to the conclusion.

Take deep breath and relax. Things will start to fall into place on their own with these foundational questions answered. A challenge is not worth gray hair, unless you like the distinguished look. *Grin*

Enjoy.

Showcase Lighting

Have you seen those pictures that take your attention and your will to look at any other photo dwindles? Maybe it is a picture of a young woman looking out the open window with the curtains blowing toward her.

The “best lighting” is directed from natural light source placement. This is what I mean by “natural light placement”, light should be coming through the window (back to the photo description above) and not around the window.

There is an important lighting technique which I refer to as “even lighting” or as others say “flat lighting.” “Flat lighting” means that the light is spread across the subject without creating harsh shadows or excessive amounts of light. Not meaning the shadow is absent but having control of the harshness or contrasted effects of the shadow is important!

I used to think that I needed no other light source but the ambient light of the outdoors; while the lighting is always perfect outside with the sun as the source, reflectors, diffusers and shades are great ways of flattening the ambient light.

Adding light with flash and strobe was my primary apprehension, because it is so easy to displace the natural lighting with one overpowering light source. This is not to say adding light with flash and strobe is bad, just a word to the wise that adding light in this way brings a lot more skill and thought to the table than anticipated.

“Showcase Lighting” is all about drawing the viewer’s attention to a specific place in the photo. This is to say, consider what your picture shows. Motion? Draw the viewer’s attention with the movement direction. Personality? Highlight the facial expression including eyebrows, eyes and/or mouth.

Lighting really is a way of communicating where you want people to look without words. Learning how to do this is not easy nor can it be reduced to a formula (at-least not to my knowledge).

Portraits – Candid

Candid shots can be hard to pick out from a few select pictures because posing does not have to show the subjects awareness of the photographer. However for our purposes we will call those posed shots candid anyway for simplicity’s sake.

What does “Candid” really mean? :

“Truthful and straightforward; frank.
(of a photograph of a person) Taken informally, especially without the subject’s knowledge.”

So we could even say that the most important quality of a candid photo is not, the lack of knowledge on the part of the subject but how truthful the image is to practical life versus our Utopian fantasy. This is not to say, a photo should include our frustration, irritation and messes, but rather kept simple and uncomplicated.

Is that easier said than practically applicable? Perhaps, although here are some suggestions to inspire your own creativity for simplicity.

  1. Focus on your subject and what has drawn their attention.
  2. Beware of your frame corners so as not to include distractions.
  3. Intentionally use backgrounds that support your shot and not stealing your viewer’s attention.

Focusing on your subject and the object holding their attention: Using a macro lens will crop a lot of the surrounding scenery bringing your focus to rest on your subject and their object of attention.

Being aware of what your frame corners catch which may distract a viewer is easy to forget. In fact I have found that if I am not paying attention I still catch minor undesirables. It can sound like photography is an art impossible to meet or only for the totally devoted  who do nothing else but study for the next super-image. I can nearly guarantee you this is not the case in most photographer’s cases.

Intentionally using backgrounds that are not flashy or precisely perfect have helped me draw out more of my subject’s presence versus a nice scenic shot with a presence.

Portraits – Interaction

When this topic of interaction during portrait sittings came up, a flood of memories and events came through my imagination. I am sure some embarrassment flashed across my face as well as a smile or two. I bring this up to say that I am not the best in the world, but I can share with you how important it is to make your customers comfortable and relaxed so that you can capture the pure expression of joy or surprise.

Your customers look forward to comfortable, pleasant and uplifting interaction during the session. The more relaxed, easy to work with and decisive you are, the more trust and loyalty will be built. Trust and loyalty are very important in a portrait session (yes, they place a certain amount of trust in you to have you shoot their portraits, but the lesson is learning how to build further still without betraying the trust already given).

Portraits can be staged “stiffly” and then the customer hears “Say cheese!”; they move their lips up slightly showing some of their pearly whites, but if you and they were relaxed and comfortable just a bit of humor will soften what is left of the nervous tension which every portrait sitting creates (the more you know about your customer the easier it will be to know their style of humor, but it is always advisable to avoid crass jokes). Now breaks across their face of the most gorgeous and wide smiles with a twinkle in their eyes showing the pure enjoyment they unexpectedly received.

One last thought: with children it takes a special joy in the simple things to encourage the response for preservation by photograph. Interaction must not always include speech to produce the desired expression. For instance, in the photo illustration on the right I used a distraction which caught the youngster’s attention. My assistant was standing in the direction I wanted his face to look and when my assistant began juggling the objects it brought a look of wonder and intense concentration. This was just the look I wanted! I hope that you can take my experiences and use them as they can best serve you. Have fun and take care!

Elements of…SURPRISE!

I have for years, been thinking about “the perfect shot” and how I would shoot it, so as to contain all elements and little background pieces that will make it refreshing and new at every glance. In short I wanted my photos to be timeless, refreshing, new and always showing something new to the viewer.

Bringing together every element in one photograph can either take so much time that you lose the interest of your subject, lose money or make the scene too busy. The object of photography is quite different in that each element draws the viewer’s focus, directing their attention to and unifying the photo as it all points to the primary subject.

For instance: say a photographer is shooting a cover photo for a band. There are five members in the band and they want to show case the instruments as well. If each member of the band plays different instrument, that means there are 10 things to fit in the frame besides finding the right background to fit the music album’s theme. [Notice we have begun to number the elements that will be in the shot. This is ways I begin to organize a group shot.]

The last article we posted “Rough start…Smooth finish” we talked about texture and how it can add to your photo. Now we are looking for a background that will bring the band members and their instruments together as a visually cohesive group. The background should resemble a place that the band would frequent, such as a recording studio room, city square, performing arts center or even walking through a parking garage on their way to a performance. (Feel free to think “outside the box.” No one really likes the stereo-typical band shot.)

One thing is certain, that when one thing is slightly out of the “norm” but obviously intentional, it will captivate the attention of the observant viewer and usually becomes a favorite. So have fun as you add to your “repertoire” of creativity!