Thanks to all for the kind birthday wishes yesterday, and the compliments on the photos. I can’t lie, I was intensely proud of how those turned out.
I knew I wanted to take some good pictures of the big kids yesterday, it being their birthday and all. I am taking an online photography workshop this summer, and last week’s challenge/prompt/tutorial was about taking portraits. That’s what informed and inspired yesterday’s photos, so I thought I’d share how it’s done. (This will be totally beginner for the uber-photogs among you, so please feel free to ignore.)
The first secret in any photography is light. Natural light is always best, but not to much. What you really want is open shade (see here and here for more on open shade) or an overcast day. Mid-day full sun is not your friend, and neither is your flash. Yesterday, we got home from lunch and it was a bright-but-cloudy day. I knew it was the right time for some outdoor photos. Some people have lots of windows in their house that face just the right direction to get this kind of light inside their houses. My 1920s-era Colonial? Not so much.
Sometimes you don’t want the trees (or your garage, or your messy living room) to be in the background of your photo. You just want a portrait, plain and simple, kind of like they do at those photo studios. The secret is a spare sheet.
I don’t have a clothesline and couldn’t think of a quick and easy way to hang it up, so I draped it over the back of a bench and had the kids sit on it (the fact that it was a fitted sheet helped it stay up). When I wanted some standing shots, I hung it over an upturned folding table.
If you have a DSLR, put your camera on Aperture-Priority mode and dial it down so the aperture is almost as low a number as you can get (the highest number is usually around 22, the lowest might be 4.5, 2.2, or even lower – most lenses will take the best picture one or two stops higher than the lowest possible number – see here for more on what an aperture is). Just set that number, and your camera will figure out the rest for you.
If you have a point-and-shoot camera, it may have Aperture Priority mode. Otherwise, see if it has a Portrait mode, or even Close-Up mode.
The combination of the solid white background (or, frankly, you could probably have fun with other colors) and low aperture should make it so your subject’s face is nice and crisp, but the background is just a blur of white. You can hardly even notice how wrinkled the sheet was.
After that, just take pictures. LOTS of pictures. Snap snap snap away, as fast as your camera will let you. I showed seven pictures yesterday, but I took well over 100 in a scant 20 minutes. And even then, I feel like I got INCREDIBLY lucky. The more you take, the better your chances.
I also happened to have kids who were in fairly cooperative moods (minus Ellie, who was not nearly so interested), and I asked one to stand behind me or next to me and make silly faces while I took pictures of the other. If the kids aren’t having it, there’s only so much you can do. Yesterday, they thought it was fun.
For example, here’s one out-take from yesterday. The sheet looks weird, Daniel was bored, Becca’s eyes were rolling into the back of her head, and Ellie was ALL DONE.
However, one shot before that was the magic shot I’ve been hoping I’d get for the last three months.
A little bit of editing with Pioneer Woman Actions (free! easy!) in Photoshop Elements (way less expensive than “real” Photoshop!), and it literally got my heart racing. I knew it was the one. And today, it became the first photo of mine that I have ever ordered on a 16×20″ canvas.
I definitely don’t get that lucky every day. If I tried to do another portrait session like this tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t get the same kind of results. Even the professionals will only get a few keepers out of a ton of shots, so why should we mortals expect any better? But once you know a few tricks, you just keep on trying. And every so often, you will get THE shot. And it will make your day.