Using Directional Lighting For Photography
When photographing subjects in a studio, you can precisely manipulate various aspects of light, including intensity, direction, and color. However, when photographing your subject outdoors, your ability to manipulate these aspects of natural light is largely diminished. Rest assured though, because there are several types of directional lighting methods you can use to get the most out of natural lighting and get the best photos possible.
When the sun is shining directly on the subject and is therefore at the photographer’s back, the scene is front-lit. This type of lighting is great for evenly illuminating the subject. But in such bright light the small details and sense of depth in the scene can be somewhat negated.
Pro: Great for bringing out vibrant colors, especially in landscapes.
Con: Not so great for portraiture because subjects will squint with the sun in their eyes.
Backlighting occurs when the sun is behind the subject; therefore the subject is in shadow. To use this situation to your advantage, expose for the brightest part of the scene you’re shooting to get a nice silhouette. Alternatively, you can zoom in on your subject and expose for the darkness of the shadows in order to get an image that is very softly lit.
Pro: An “artsier” alternative to front-light that also eliminates the squinting factor.
Con: May require artificial light to make subjects visible; may also cause lens flare if a lens hood is not used.
As the name suggests, side lighting occurs when the sun’s rays enter the scene from the left or right. A subject that is side-lit is in both light and shadow, creating more dramatic results with various forms and textures. Side lighting is especially effective for black and white photography, which relies on the presence of fine details to make a powerful impact.
Pro: Enhances color in lighted areas and texture in shadowed areas, while giving photographs a feeling of being three-dimensional.
Con: Can result in harsh contrasts, necessitating the use of a reflector or artificial light source to lighten up shadowed areas.
Making use of natural lighting allows you to capture the essence of the outdoor scene you’re photographing without relying on artificial lights. Although certainly helpful and necessary, artificial lighting can make photos look, well, artificial, particularly when compared to natural light photos.
Taking photos (good ones, at least!) with natural lighting requires a lot of patience and a great deal of practice. But photographers that can master the use of front, back, and side lighting can produce some stunning photos that would be unattainable in a studio setting. It’s a bonus not to have to carry around bulky lighting equipment either!
Much of this information came from interviewing Bob Hallam who is a wedding photographer in Chicago. Be sure to check out his fine art photography on his blog because he does an excellent job with directional lighting. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me!
Having Great Composition
One of the most well-known photography tricks, the rule of thirds is also among the most powerful. If you seek a way to make your photos look more dynamic and interesting, using the rule of thirds is the way to go.
The rule of thirds posits that in order to compose the most interesting photos, the subject(s) need to align with imaginary lines that divide the scene into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Essentially the goal is to imagine a grid in which two vertical and two horizontal lines create nine regions in the photograph. The four points where horizontal and vertical lines intersect are an especially good place for the center of the subject to fall. Oddly, by moving the subject off center, the rule of thirds creates a scene that has much more balance.
Why Use the Rule?
Whether you’re photographing landscapes, sporting events, portraits or engagements, the rule of thirds will allow you to bring more visual interest to the photo. The idea is that by moving the primary subject of the scene to an off-center position, you give viewers a more dynamic photo and one that appears more natural. For example, rather than having a person stand in the dead middle of the frame, moving him or her to the left or right creates more interest. Doing so also prevents the photo from looking like a mugshot! To see how the rule of thirds can be applied check out the portfolio of Bob Hallam, Chicago Engagement Photographer.
It is important to note that the rule of thirds can be applied on multiple planes. For example, a scene can be composed such that an upright subject is aligned with one of the two vertical lines of the grid, while a horizontal subject is simultaneously aligned with one of the horizontal lines of the grid. This also works with two vertical subjects or two horizontal subjects, or all four at the same time.
Imagine a scene in which there is a field in the foreground, a sunset in the background, a tree on the left and a person on the right. Aligning these four distinct subjects along the four planes of the imaginary grid will allow you to compose the shot in a manner that draws attention to each subject while also bringing organization to a scene that could otherwise look and feel overwhelming.
Using the rule of thirds also gives you an opportunity to creatively use the negative space in the frame, or the areas of empty space around your subject. For example, a portrait of a woman standing in a park that is composed using the rule of thirds might have grassy areas or trees in the negative space. The composition of the photo allows for the negative space to define and emphasize the main subject – the woman. It simultaneously allows your eye to be naturally drawn to her while also giving your eye an area to “rest.” The grassy areas and the trees inform you of the environment in which the woman was photographed without becoming the stars of the show.
How to Implement the Rule of Thirds
Using the rule of thirds is pretty straightforward. Survey the scene you’d like to capture and identify the most important subjects. Try to position those elements along (or near) the vertical or horizontal axes of the grid, bearing in mind that they do not have to be perfectly aligned, but just close enough. Moving yourself around, both up and down and left and right, will help you more effectively align the subjects, and can provide a new and interesting composition to the shot.
As with many rules in art, they aren’t always completely fail safe. Some situations will arise when using the rule of thirds just will not work for your composition. If by throwing the rule of thirds aside you get a much more visually impactful photo, by all means, go for it! Experimenting with different compositions is how you will get the best photos. But before you go off breaking all the rules, be sure you’ve got the rule of thirds down pat. It will help you see scenes with a more critical eye and will actually help you compose better rule-breaking photos too.
For Emerging Portrait Photographers
Portrait photography requires a number of tools. A camera, lenses, lighting sources, and a tripod are just a few of the essential must-haves. But deciding on which features or particular models you need can be a daunting task. If you’re ready to begin your portraiture career, consider this list of essential equipment to get you started.
For someone who wishes to make a living through his or her photography, a single lens reflex (SLR) camera is a must. SLR cameras come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. The good news is that even low-end to mid-range SLR cameras have plenty of features that will allow you to take nice portraits without breaking the bank. If you don’t already own a camera, do your due diligence and research several models. If possible, give them a try before making a purchase.
Tip: For the best portraits, purchase an entry level DSLR camera with at least 21.5 megapixels. If your budget allows for it go for the full frame.
If you’re looking for the best lens for portraiture, prime lenses are an excellent choice. With a greater maximum aperture, prime lenses allow for a shallow depth of field, which is a common feature of portraits. Another bonus with prime lenses is that they don’t have as many parts as say, a zoom lens, so image quality is better and sharper.
That said, some portrait photographers actually prefer telephoto lenses. I contacted Gary, who is a Virginia Beach Professional Photographer and he said that he prefers using telephoto lenses for portraits. More specifically he loves using the 70-200 2.8 lens.
“The 70-200 is a wonderful lens for so many reasons. For one it allows you to keep a great distance from your subjects and allow for natural interaction to occur. Just as important, it compresses subjects in the frame which makes for a much more flattering portrait.”
As with most things, you get what you pay for. Skimping on your lens is not a good idea if you want good quality photos. If you have a budget (who doesn’t?!), bear in mind that an inexpensive prime lens will give you better results than an inexpensive zoom lens.
Tip: Consider renting a few lenses to try before purchasing one of your own.
Lighting is what will make or break a portrait. The ability to create areas of light and shadow is what gives portraits a three-dimensional look. To get those crisp areas of shadow and light, portrait photographers typically rely on strobes. Here again, price is often indicative of quality, so opt for a more expensive strobe. It will give you better lighting and will last longer than something from the bargain bin.
Another lighting must-have is a diffuser. Diffusers reduce harsh shadowing and glare. They are particularly useful for outdoor photo shoots where lighting can be harsh, like at midday. Diffusers come in a variety of forms, from those that fit over your camera’s flash to the umbrella-style often seen in studios. Softboxes are an additional option used by many portrait photographers, although they are a more expensive choice.
Tip: In a bind, a sheet or sheer piece of fabric will work as a diffuser.
Getting the cleanest and crispest portraits often means having a tripod. The selection of tripods runs the gamut from those that will fit in your pocket to those that are five or six feet tall. Regardless of their size (or price), they all serve the same essential function of stabilizing your camera. The choice really comes down to your budget and what is best for your specific needs.
There are many other pieces of equipment that you’ll need to acquire as you continue your path to becoming a portrait photographer. However, setting yourself up with the items on this list will get you started off on the right foot and prepared to take some excellent portraits!
In the last article we talked about how to take your first family portrait This time I want to discuss scouting locations for future photo-sessions. One of the greatest things about being an on-location photographer is that your potential backgrounds are endless. You can choose an urban setting, park, beach, modern buildings and even historic buildings. You can’t replicate these backgrounds in a studio no matter how many backdrops you might have. Not to mention you are able to save on over head costs.
If you plan to make this a profession at any point in the future there is some “intelligence gathering” that needs to take place. You need to have a good portfolio of potential locations to hold sessions. This will make matching the look & feel your client is going for much easier.
The best way to go about this is to take your camera and a note pad and drive around local cities looking for scenery that jumps out at you. You can spend as much time as you would like doing this but one or two times a month should be plenty.
When you come across a location that jumps out at you just pull over and walk around. Check your surroundings and potential hurdles of photographing a family in that location. Is the location really open? Are there a bunch of unwanted objects surrounding the location? How is the light falling during that particular time of day? All of these things can be important when deciding whether or not to add it to your location portfolio. Always take several photos in a panoramic manner so you have a visual reference. You can either save these images on your computer or you can place them in a photo album. Whichever you choose make sure to label the location and what time of day you visited. After a few months of doing this you should have a pretty wide location portfolio to start with. As you begin getting paying clients you will gain more motivation to continue expanding your portfolio. Make sure you come back to check out the next article. See you next time!
How To Take Beautiful Family Portraits
Most professional photographers start off with photography as a hobby and decide months or years later that it’s something they want to pursue as a profession. Maybe you just got your first DSLR camera this past Christmas and your itching to get out and take photos of your family and friends. This article is going to give you very basic instructions on how to take your first family portraits and make them look awesome!
The first thing we are going to discuss is the type of lenses you will want to use for your family portrait session. Typically a 50mm, 85mm, or a 100mm lens will work best but it will all depend on how many people will be in the portrait. If you have 4 or more people that will be in the photo then you will want to use the 50mm lens or the 85mm. Now comes the focal length or f-stop. This can be a somewhat confusing topic so I will break it down in simple terms.
Have you ever seen portraits where the background is blurred? The proper term for the blurred out background is called bokeh. To achieve bokeh you need a good fast lens with an f-stop of 1.4, 1.8, or 2.8. If you don’t have that lens you might want to consider borrowing a friends or rent one from borrowlenses.com. So you may be wondering what the heck f-stop is but I’m going to tell you not to worry about all the technical terminology relating to f-stop. Instead think of f-stop like this. The smaller the number, the more bokeh (blurred background you will have in your pictures. So from the list above, 1.4 will give you the most blur, 1.8 comes in 2nd, and 2.8 comes in 3rd.
Now that you have borrowed a lens lets get down to how to position your subjects. Let’s assume you will be taking the photos outside after the sun has disappeared behind the trees. And you want to use the trees as your background. Move your subjects as far away from the trees as possible and towards you, the photographer. The further you bring your subjects towards you the more blurred out the background will be. Now that you have everyone 25-50 yards away lets pose them correctly.
If you are photographing a family with 4 people you have several choices but for the sake of keeping this simple were going only going to cover 2. There is the obvious option of having all four in one single row. Place the two tallest in the middle and the shorter people on the ends. This can be altered depending on the relationships within the group. So if the mom is the shortest you may want to consider leaving her next to the husband and keep the kids on the ends. Just try to make everyone as uniform as possible. If you need some ideas on posing check out other professionals or this Virginia Beach Photographer.
Your other option is to have two rows which will allow you to use the 85mm or 100mm lens. You will want to try and follow the same concepts as above. The simplest option would be to place the two children in the front and position the parents directly behind them. Try to get everyone on the same plane. This will ensure that you will have everyone in focus while using the lowest f-stop as possible. If your photos appear to be a little blurry put your f-stop to 4.0, or 5.0. Take a few photos and check your lcd screen to make sure everything looks ok. If the photos are too dark lower your shutter speed and if they are two bright raise your shutter speed. Do this until your photos look the way you want them. Congratulations you have just taken your first portrait. Stay tuned for the next article.