Originally published December 2010. Updated Dec. 9, 2016
‘Tis the season for family portraits. If you’re like me, you’ve got friends and family who say “you’re a photographer, will you shoot portraits for me?” Unfortunately, these people don’t always understand that photographing landscapes and wildlife is completely different from photographing people. I mean, the camera is the same, but that’s about it.
So what should you do when asked to shoot portraits? Here are some tips and gear recommendations that should get you started.
As photographers, we quickly learn to recognize the differences in lighting conditions. We all seek to shoot things in what we call “good light.” But what is good light, anyway? We’ve certainly heard of golden hour and blue hour, and you probably know that overcast skies and midday light aren’t always ideal. In today’s segment of The Sensor Plane, I’ll discuss some common lighting challenges and how to deal with them in the field.
For an audio-only version of this podcast, click here.
I got several comments on yesterday’s post asking how I was able to create the background color and lighting effects in my otherwise boring head shot. After all, I only used a single light for the image and the background was a blank wall about five feet behind me. The trick I used was Tiffen’s Dfx 3 software, which I think is an indispensable tool for home studio photographers.
First of all, it’s important to note that I used an 85mm lens to take this image; doing so threw the background completely out of focus. That’s desirable for head shots where you want to tweak the background color/look later. I processed the RAW image (Nikon NEF file) in Lightroom 4.2 to open up the shadows a bit (note: click on any image below to see a larger view).
After what has seemed like an eternal winter, the weather here in Colorado is finally warming up. Moreover, we seem to have shaken the 60 mph winds that made photography difficult last week. I finally got out to attempt a project that I’d been previsualizing for some time; lightpainting the Siamese Twins formation in Garden of the Gods.
I’ve photographed this formation before during the daytime; it’s a popular spot to catch the juxtaposition of the twin rock towers with the summit of Pikes Peak between them. But I’d never hiked to it at night.
Lightpainting is a technique whereby you artificially illuminate your subject with a flashlight or lantern. This technique enables you to control the exact placement of light in the scene and you can use it to selectively illuminate subjects of interest. I headed up to the Siamese twins with my gear in a Think Tank “Streetwalker Pro” bag. I had my D3s, 16-35/4, 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8 VR II. I also had my Gitzo tripod and a couple of strong flashlights. I reached the formation about 20 minutes after sundown and I set up.
My good friend Dave Black has published his first book, entitled The Way I See It. The Way I See It is a compilation of 50 one-page workshops that illustrate Dave’s masterful approach to lighting and composition. While this book is an excellent tutorial, it is also a handsome coffee table book– the color images are stunning.
For any photographer, especially those who use the Nikon system, you’ll love Dave’s simple approach to building a scene and capturing traditional events in a manner that brings emotion and feeling to his images.