As a photographer, I am definitely a problem solver. I must solve endless problems including lighting, posing, and flattering my subject. One way to become a better problem solver is to understand the tools available to us, most importantly, our cameras.
When photographing people and portraits, it is important to understand how your camera and lenses see. When looking through the lens, how does your camera interpret the environment and your subject different than what you perceive with the naked eye? Whether posing and shooting fashion, family portraits or head shots, understanding this makes a profound impact on the final results.
When all the elements fall info place during a photo session you can find yourself a lot more than just a couple of high quality single images but instead can find that you have captured a series of images that illustrates some really interesting action. Combining multiple images into a single action sequence image can give you a creative eye opening image that can really surprise viewers.
This February I was invited to join the fast-paced and inspirational conference called Seniors Ignite. The conference, this year hosted outside of Las Vegas, focused specifically on senior portrait photography and all elements involved– lighting, posing, business, inspiration and more! The event helps elevate senior portrait photography through lecture by those leading the industry and also a great deal of hands-on shooting through their senior model program.
High school seniors around the country can apply to be part of the program through their host studio, and a limited number are selected to come to the event and be photographed in fashion-editorial style shoots at the annual conference.
There is one question that is asked of me most often when I am teaching photography. That question is “Which lens is your favorite”? That’s such a terribly difficult question for me to answer. Lenses are like children, I love them all and hate to play favorites.
All kidding aside, I carry 5 lenses with me everywhere I go. Sigma’s 35mm F1.4, 50mm F1.4, 85mm F1.4, 24-70mm F2.8 and the 70-200mm F2.8. Most of my boudoir shoots are done in studio. My studio is very small (about 10’x10’) so I most often shoot with my 50mm due to size constraints. What if I want to take my client out to the rooftop though? (I’m bringing out the 70-200mm for that!) or into the vestibule (only the 24-70mm will do there). I would be unprepared without the other lenses.
Learning to use manual settings in your camera will provide you with the ability to create the beautiful exposures you desire. The exposure in your camera is determined by several different settings. Exposure refers to the lightness or darkness of the image. The settings are: 1) the aperture, the lens opening, which lets in light and controls the depth of field; 2) the shutter speed, the speed by which the lens lets in light, and 3) the ISO, which controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. The right combination of these three settings will give you a nearly perfect exposure and give you the effect you want for your image.
Over the last weekend a huge swell focused giant waves on California triggering a high surf advisory and I had my Sigma 50-500mm to document some of the action. By the end of the weekend the awe inspiring power of this swell took its toll with lots of snapped surfboard leashes, broken surfboards and injured surfers (one had to be taken away by ambulance), my friend Jim broke his foot on Sunday dropping into a huge wave!
At my local beach in south Los Angeles the waves break close to shore so my Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM works very very well to document the action in the water here. Prime lenses are much harder to shoot with at beach breaks especially when the surf is large.
In my last post, I left you with an image of a flower from my own garden that I was desperately trying to photograph against the beautiful spring sky. I was lying on the ground trying for a good angle when Darrell Gulin’s lesson came to mind. Why struggle out in the field? He often photographs butterflies in his own kitchen and uses printed natural looking backgrounds behind his subjects. Why was I crawling in the grass, struggling to get a good angle? It was my flower so I simply clipped it and brought it inside. I went back outside and took a picture of the beautiful sky. Back inside, I printed it on some cheap 13×19 matte paper, mounted it on some stiff backboard, placed it behind the bloom, and voila! The image at top is very similar as I used a printed natural green background, but done outdoors. My question to you is; could you tell that it was a printed background? It was an actual “real sky” (in the last post) and some “real” foliage, in this image. Does it really matter? How is that different than the manipulation in the field with the bark or the snow? That is a choice for you to ultimately make but now, I could easily have any background I wanted behind the subject and the sky literally was the limit! Below is my low-tech indoor setup that I can use, any day of the year, and have any background I want even if there is a foot of snow outside! Just remember to close the window too.
In “The High Concept Image,” a recent feature in Outdoor Photographer, nature photographer Ian Plant intelligently challenges photographers to capture creative, thoughtful images that move beyond “snapshots,” rising to the level of “art.”
Ian’s description of the high concept image is in contradistinction to the “low-concept image,” which he points out is generally more “documentary” or “literal” in nature. Seeing nothing wrong with such grab shots, he does, however, push photographers to look for new ways to depict the world. He invokes legendary photographer Minor White, who once said “One should photograph objects not only for what the are but for what else they are.”
Our job as portrait photographers is often to flatter our subjects and help them look their best. There are so many elements that can go into this equation; lighting, posing, expression, focal length, camera angle and more. There is a lot to consider, so sometimes it is useful to train our eyes to see certain undesirable visual elements so we can weed them out.
I have both a creative and analytical mind. I do not like absolutes. I do no like rules. I do, however, appreciate guidelines that help give us photographers a better understanding of how to use our art to communicate. I’d have to side with Pablo Picasso on this one; “’Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’”