I recently wrote an article on hand-holding large and heavy lenses, which attracted quite a bit of attention and some nice comments and questions from PL readers. I am not really a writer, but a few people asked me about my technique for getting those shots. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert and there are many ways to skin a cat. So this is the way I get my shots and you will have to find your own way to achieving what you want. Let’s start with a “money shot”: what I would say is the shot of the day, the shot that made it all worth it.
The Cobra danced in front of my lens, swaying its porcelain white scales and flaring its hood. This was one of the most alluring and flat-out beautiful animals I’d ever seen. Not the least bit camera shy, the cobra flicked out its pink tongue to sniff the air then suddenly lunged at the camera. Luckily there was a pane of glass keeping me safe from the snake. I was at the Reptile Zoo in Slade, Kentucky partaking in something I generally frown upon, which is taking photos of captive animals, not ones in the wild. As I discovered, however, there are situations when shooting captive animals won’t throw your soul on the barbecue. Identifying these situations and how to present captive animal photos ethically is what I want to discuss today. Lastly I’ll give some tips on how the shots illustrating this article were done.
I recently bought the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR (see Nasim’s review) and took it out for my first field test. It turned out to be extremely poor light and rough snowy weather, but sometimes that’s when you get some great photos. I have some samples to show here and even though they are not tack sharp because the conditions didn’t really allow that, they are moody and show nature in its true beauty. I also wanted to talk about gimbals on tripods versus hand-holding on large lenses to get flying or action shots. I hear so many times you cannot hand-hold that 600mm, but I do and some of my best shots are because I hand-held.
Like any event photographer, most of my wedding shots are of people, i.e. the bride, the groom and their guests. This, after all, is what a wedding is all about and what people mainly want to see when they open a wedding photo album. Weddings, though, are always packed full of other visual details besides the people. So much time is spent in preparation to make a wedding look beautiful that it would be a shame not to preserve some of this in the album. I find that sometimes the best way to achieve this is to make these details the subjects of some of my photographs, even if this means leaving people out of some shots completely.
In this article, Patrick Downs is providing very useful portrait photography tips to our readers, sharing his experience and beautiful images that he has taken as a professional photographer. As a photojournalist for 25 years and shooting for much longer, I may have a different or expanded definition of what a portrait is, and what it takes to produce them. There are genres of portraiture, of course, such as: editorial, corporate, commercial/retail, documentary or candid, and illustrative portraits. With some you exercise almost no control (e.g., William Albert Allard), and with others almost total control (e.g., Annie Leibovitz). There is no right or wrong answer … the photographer chooses their style! There are many photographers whose portraits I love, and not all of them are pure portrait photographers. Allard is a documentary photographer, but his found portraits are wonderful. Annie L. imposes her will on her subjects, but the results are fascinating and something I’d love to be able to do. If I were to pick my top 3 pure portraitists, it might be Arnold Newman, Gregory Heisler, and Annie L, in no special order. I went back and read my Arnold Newman’s “One Mind’s Eye” the other day, and was struck by how many of his images don’t use “perfect” light by today’s standards, but so many are amazing. This one, of Igor Stravinsky, is still one of the most brilliant photo portraits ever taken, I think. It’s interesting to know that Greg Heisler was one of Newman’s last assistants.
Some photographers may have been fortunate enough to obtain professional guidance in their early endeavors at serious photography. I, on the other hand, belong to the camp that had to do on their own. I built most of my photography knowledge through my stock photography experience. My stock work and the associated challenges helped develop my photography grammar.
Rather than taking a deeper look at an image, those of us who are just getting into photography might get carried away with thoughts of major post-processing. If given enough consideration, most photos do not need major editing or hardly need any editing at all. Before venturing into piling on every single editing trick you’ve learned on the photo of your choice, I call you to consider these basic tips to make your workflow faster and hopefully easier.
You have heard it said, “Shoot first, ask questions later” but when it comes to wildlife photography, if you will ask questions first, you will get to shoot more later. This quick tip for the beginning wildlife photographer encourages you to ask questions. While you might go to a park to find wildlife, some photo ops might be in your own backyard, literally, and if not your own backyard, maybe in your friend’s or neighbor’s backyard.
Some time ago, I was busy frequenting a local park looking for a bobcat that was being seen. I made at least 20 visits and spent considerable time there looking for that bobcat. I found tracks and evidence of its kills but I never found the cat. On one particular day I had been out to the park for about 4 hours hiking and looking, all to no avail. I got home and my wife asked, “Did you see the pictures of the mountain lion that so and so posted on their Facebook page?” I asked where she had seen the mountain lion and it turned out that it was in her back yard. When I heard this, I was a bit frustrated, as I had been within a few minutes of their home when I was looking for the bobcat and had I known that there was a lion there, I would have made a trip over there to try and see it. By this time however, I knew that realistically, it was long gone.
In my opinion, street photography is a significant craft, geared towards preserving human history and history of any given society. It helps us preserve once-in-a-lifetime moments and capture truly authentic imagery. As many of us start getting weary and tired by the polished, glossy magazine looks we encounter daily, random portraits photographed in streets preserve that originality a lot of us crave, once again reminding us of real subjects and objects around us. Street portraiture is a big chunk of street photography and documentary. Today, I want to concentrate on giving you some tips on street portraiture. I should also warn you that the pointers I give today may work better for female photographers, rather than for boys with cameras :)
1) Brush up on your people skills
Photographing people close-up is a little different than photographing street architecture or doing documentary style street photography. While the main reasoning behind street photography itself is to get away from posed, artificial and repetitive, photographing random people provides a great opportunity to work with the raw beauty. But it is a challenging task for many of us – those people on the streets are not your paying clients, they do not know who you are and most of them do not wish to be photographed at all!
As photographers, light is something we are constantly concerned about. We need some sort of light source coming in, but from where and how much is always the question. A soft sun glow during the early hours of the morning or right before sunset is ideal, but often times wedding ceremonies or a client’s schedule does not allow for those prime shooting times. Light can take a normally plain image and transform it into a powerful and exciting picture, but what happens when you are dealing with harsh midday, overhead lighting? Luckily, there are a couple ways of dealing with this problem while still achieving beautiful pictures that both you and your clients will be happy with.
1) Shade – Even Lighting
The best way to avoid distracting facial shadows from midday lighting is to bring your subjects into a shaded area. That shade can be provided by a large tree, a building or really anything that is casting a big enough shadow to fit your subject. What we want to do is create even lighting where no direct sun is hitting the face or body, allowing the subject to be evenly lit. Make sure you are not using patchy shade where spots of light are coming through. This will cause uneven lighting and your subject will have spots of light hitting their face and body.
2) Backs to the Sun – Back Lit
If no shade is available, position your subjects with their backs to the sun. Doing this will block most of the direct light and cause their faces to be evenly shaded. This is called back lighting. This is sometimes easier to do with one subject because you can position them perfectly to make sure no sunspots are making their way onto the face. With two or more individuals it can be more of a challenge. Keeping their faces closer together can help eliminate some of the light spots coming through or you can use the taller subject to block the sun off of the shorter person. Make sure to expose for the subjects’ faces or they will be too dark to see any detail. Something to note is that the background will be overexposed when metering for the face in a situation like this.