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!

Portraits – Gravity

Since we just talked about Perspective in our last post, perhaps it is a good time to discuss some ways of using gravity to our advantage and slowing our shutter speed.

Yeah, that is right. Using gravity can slow your shutter speed. Allow me to explain. As a photographer, I had some ideas of how other professional had created some amazing shots of hair seeming to float in mid-air, but without having been at the photo shoot I could not be certain and I was almost convinced that speaking with the photographer was as impossible as being at the photo shoot.

For instance, imagine a model who is demonstrating the effects of a hair product for a public relations campaign for the company. The point of the company is not to prove their product’s ability to hold their customer’s hair in mid-air but the soft and static-free beauty of the hair. How can that be demonstrated in a photograph?

First we should discuss using gravity to our advantage. Fast shutter speeds mean that we need to open up our aperture and raise our ISO thus dropping out quality a bit and losing our ability to keep the face in focus at the same time as the hair. Sacrificing quality for speed in this case is not acceptable.

Using an evenly lit and solid color background makes it worlds easier when editing the shot in the post-production process so lay down a sheet of bright white paper on the floor keeping it clean for the model.

Mount your camera above the bright white paper and pose the model on the bright white paper, making sure her hair falls in a natural looking direction giving the illusion that gravity is pulling her hair down but also giving a light “silky” appearance that you see in advertisements. Using your studio lights to over expose the background while properly lighting the model’s face will give you the flexibility you seek without sacrificing quality for speed.

Portraits – Lighting

Light is what I call one of the “basic three”. Without light, either natural or artificial, it would be impossible to see or photograph anything. Now we have an understanding that light is important, but what are the other two parts of the “basic three”? They really are so practical we think too hard when trying to answer this question; A quality camera and a well designed lens.

Onto our topic for today, light is so common and we have so much of it in so regular a time that we take if for granted. Lighting is essential for contrast and definition but before we scatter into all the areas to which light pertains, let us take a moment to remember some things which we have previously discussed.

Lighting angles are vital:

  • Portraits are best lit when the light source is within a 45 degree angle to the subject on a horizontal plane and not to high above the subject to avoid deep shadows around the eyes.
  • Silhouettes can be made when the light source is behind the subject and the camera is appropriately set.
  • Back-lighting is meant to remove shadows and highlight the edges of the object.

We have also talked about a few things which will add light to a shot by reflecting the natural light which already exists in a setting and how to soften this light. This is all well and good, but I would not serve you well if I did not address equipment which can add light in your photos.

Flashes and studio strobes are wonderful tools for adding light, however I must say they are not the cheapest tool. I am grateful to have some experience with studio lighting but it is this experience I want to share with you.

Studio strobe are adjustable in intensity and power as well as offering tethering ability, which enables the photographer to use more than one at the same time. In our next post we will look into strobes and how they use other methods of lighting with one source.

Snap shots

Snap shots are one of most rewarding and irritating events in photography. Allow me to explain.

Say I am on vacation and I take my camera along because anticipating you will see is impossible (even while planning your itinerary). Besides, who does not take a camera when planning to do so many fun things? I mean, that is a given. Even if it is the old Polaroid camera!

I carry my camera with me every where I go, so that means; hiking, flying, driving, activities (especially so), reading a book on the patio, camp fire, dinner meetings, museums, parks, monuments…I think you get the idea. In fact I carry my camera with me so often that in some department stores have asked me to keep my camera in my bag or leave the store. *Sheepish grin* (In addition I suggest never to make a scene in a store. It is not good for your business nor theirs and may even destroy possible future business relations.)

The main thing is to always have you camera so that you can capture that ever so rare moment!

Next: Learn to anticipate things. A parent is an expert at seeing possible dangers their children can walk into, mostly from experience. So, if you miss a snap shot because you lack this anticipatory experience, avoid condemning or punishing yourself! No one likes a “grumpy” photographer (parental or professional). Smile, laugh and enjoy the moment!

I think of snap shots as an art form all their own! Snap shots have no preparatory time, meaning you cannot clean up the living room before the moment passes, or that large field of uncut grass cannot be manicured. Take heart! You need not document the unkempt living room or the uncut field.

Friday, we will talk about some solutions in avoiding distracting backgrounds.

Simplifying The Message

I find it difficult to discern the line between too much interest in a photo and too little. Let me give you some background about myself and some things which I have found helpful when I am on a photo shoot.

In college I was required to prepare and if called upon, give a public speech which was at-least 25 minutes in length and not to exceed 45 minutes. This can be a challenge! How does this apply to photography?

  • How do you gather enough interest or information for a photo (or to last 30 minutes)?
  • After putting together what I have, how do I put it in order?
  • Once a “dry run” is complete, how do I pare it down and still make sense?
  • What are the “key words and phrases” I must include?
  • How can I “beef” it up to be more than reading a script?

These are all very valid questions. Let me start by saying that in photography there hardly is ever a concern for “gathering interest”. I am grateful to have such beauty and splendor around with which to use as a back-drop!

The difficulty often comes when trying to put it all in order. Most of the time I take shots in neatly manicured gardens so that I do not have to set things in order. They already are in order! So, what about when I do not shoot photographs in a garden? I make sure of my subject (the person or object which the photo will display) and find a way to use the best available scenery as the back-drop.

Now to leave out the things that do not matter or take attention away from the subject. Getting closer to the subject or zooming closer in is a quick and easy solution, but do not be shy about moving around and changing the perspective of the shot to avoid specific things. Do be sure to keep your attention on the subject so that the shots do not come out with an odd feel because you were focused on not including “…that!…”

Our next to last question is even more subjective than the previous three, because this is part of your “style” as a photographer. I have seen many friends’ engagement photos and thought to myself, “I would have shot that different”, “I would have included this…” or “I would have excluded that!” That is just fine. Just because someone else would have done it another way does not mean that they are right, but shows the difference in style of photography. Remember: couples will usually ask for a portfolio of your work and it is your style that will grab their attention and get you the contract (providing of course prices are competitive and people skills are not horrible). The point is, price and people skill may be great, but if they do not like what they see in your portfolio, it probably will be a “no go.”

So whether you are shooting pictures of your adorable kids, or fascinated adventurer with a camera, remember; keep it simple and let your story be told!

Cloudy skies, with a chance…

“The weather forecast for today is cloudy skies, with a 97% chance of distracted photographers…” Have you ever had that feeling of someone watching as you set-up a shot with the thought in the back of your mind, “I am so distracted with everything else but my shot that I will miss it!”

Shooting under cloudy skies can pose quite a challenge, but do not let the challenges get you down! This is only an opportunity to learn more about the equipment you have and how to use it with the utmost efficiency.

Most camera manufacturers have come to realize the difficulty of the outdoor photographer. With such an understanding they have built-in some wonderful features in the White Balance settings that allow for these difficulties.

Thin clouds present the most different obstacle because prevailing winds in the higher atmosphere is either your best friend or worst enemy. By that I mean, if the wind is strong enough to keep the cloud layer moving you will have an even lighting providing that the cloud layer is constant in thickness. However, if the wind gusts or is too slow, the thin cloud layer will be easily burnt through (typical of southern climates) and thus give times of harsh and direct sunlight.

Spotty clouds are always changing amounts of light and seem to be playing the “peek-a-boo” game for that perfect shot. Frustrating? That would be a kind way of speaking about this problem!

Thick clouds project a cold or harsh look on and around the subject, whereas with every subject I have photographed warmer colors are always more inviting. Yes the cloudy setting will eliminate most if not all of the gloom emitted by the clouds, but in all of these scenarios there is the problem of constant change in amounts of light and then the unexpected objects that reflect the sunlight when the sun is unveiled.

What is the answer? In my experience when shooting with ever-changing lighting, I will use the “Shade” White Balance setting. This will lighten the shadows so as to compensate for the sharp contrast in lighting and still avoid most of the over exposure on the surfaces that are given direct lighting!

When I began shooting in these conditions, I came to my senses about halfway through the photo-op. It was easy to have a moment which I call a “professional hissy-fit”, but when you are with a client, it is best to remain cool, calm and collected. As I reviewed the shots, I realized that we had last shot in shade and all of the photos after still turned out very well, with detail I did not expect in the shadows.

Times like this one are great opportunities to learn how your camera functions and understanding precisely how each setting will help or hinder you in achieving your goal.

So the next time you are out and about with a camera in your hand, take the opportunity to master an obstacle and become that better photographer!

*NOTE: These mentioned White Balance settings are not “industry standard”, so their names and usage may vary according to manufacturer specifications.