Portrait Photography Tips

Readhead Guy

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.

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How to Upgrade Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5

Upgrade 1

This is a quick guide on how to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5, if you are considering moving up to the latest and greatest Lightroom version. While the process of upgrading the actual software is pretty straightforward, there are some important steps you need to take to make sure that the catalog is upgraded successfully and you are using the latest available features. If you are scared about upgrading and have not done it in the past, this guide might help you to go through the process. The good news is, Adobe allows keeping both versions of Lightroom on the same machine, which means that you can install LR5 and continue to use your old LR4 with the old catalog(s). Once you are satisfied with the upgrade, you can then remove the old version of Lightroom, along with the old versions of catalogs.

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Open and Closed Composition

Open and Closed Composition-11

In the first article of our Mastering Composition series, we discussed the definition of the term “composition”. We also outlined the main goal of composition and talked about why it is such an important part of any work of art. As we dive deeper, it is necessary to define two discrete types of composition with photographic context in mind. One such type is called “open composition”, while the other one, predictably, “closed composition”. These two types are further split into several smaller branches. Our readers have already mentioned some of them previously, such as symmetrical composition. These subtypes will be discussed in separate articles over the next few weeks. As before, an assignment for beginners is waiting for you to participate in at the end of the article.

Open and Closed Composition-11

1) A Brief History Lesson

You may be surprised to hear about open and closed composition. Where did these definitions come from? Well, I am quite certain a lot of our readers realize or know that photography has always been very close to painting, and is so even today. In fact, at some point photographers were actually seen as rivals to painters. Only, their art and craft got away without the skill of wielding a brush normally associated with painting (which painters were quick to notice and criticize). Here is a very brief summary on how photography and painting are related.

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What is Composition in Photography?

What is Composition in Photography

With the first article in our new Mastering Composition series, it is only fitting that we start off by discussing the very definition of our main topic. In this article for beginner photographers, I will outline the general meaning of the term “composition” in art. I will also briefly discuss the goal of composition, define what a good composition is and why it is such an important part of any work of art. At the end of the article I will provide you with a simple question that is also a hint on what is to come in future articles.

What is Composition in Photography

1) General Definition of the Term

The term “composition” applies not only to visual arts, but to music, dance, literature and virtually any other kind of art. In certain contexts, such as writing, this term may not be as widely used, but is just as valid nonetheless. In general, the term “composition” has two distinctive, yet related meanings.

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Lightroom Lens Corrections Explained

Lightroom Lens Corrections Basic

Since Lightroom version 3, Adobe has been providing a Lens Corrections sub-module within the Develop Module to correct various optical issues commonly seen on all lenses. It is a very powerful and complex tool that can be applied to one or many photographs with a couple of quick steps, potentially saving many hours of post-processing time. In this article, I will explain what the Lens Corrections sub-module is, how it works and how you can effectively use it to correct optical issues in your photographs. I will also show you a method of adding a lens profile manually, if you have unsupported lenses in your arsenal.

1) What is Lens Corrections in Lightroom?

Lens Corrections is a tool within Lightroom’s Develop Module (hence I often refer to it as a “sub-module”) that allows fixing such lens problems as distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting and perspective correction “non-destructively”, without leaving Lightroom. The beauty of the Lens Corrections feature in Lightroom, is that just like any other setting, lens corrections can be copied from one image to another, applied to hundreds of images at once, or can be set up as an import template, automatically applying corrections to images during the image import process. Keep in mind that lens correction is not a simple fix that applies to any lens – corrections are lens-specific. Since each lens model is designed with a unique optical formula, lens corrections must also be uniquely customized for each model. For example, one could not take a lens correction from the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and apply it to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4G just because they share the same focal length and maximum aperture. Adobe staff spends time working with a number of different lenses and they continuously add support to new and existing lenses when new versions of Lightroom are released.

How does Lens Corrections affect images? Take a look at the following image sample:

Move mouse over to see before and after Lens Correction

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Wildlife Photography Tips: Ask Questions First, Shoot Later

Grackle in Crabapple Blossoms

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.

Grackle in Crabapple Blossoms

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.

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Photographing Cemeteries and Exploring Their Beauty

. St. Mary's Cemetery

Photographers are always looking for something new to invigorate their photography. Sometimes visiting the same old haunts or taking the same types of photographs can get stale. When I mention that I love visiting historic cemeteries, I get quite a few strange looks. Some consider it a bit morbid. Others, uncomfortable with the subject of death, can’t seem to fathom going to a cemetery unless they have no choice! Suffice to say that the notion of visiting a cemetery is not usually at the top of people’s “Things I Would Most LikeTo Do This Weekend” lists!

1) Why Cemeteries?

It may be that having a cemetery just beyond my backyard fence or being within a 5 minute walk of another for much of my youth caused me to think of and look at cemeteries a bit differently than most. I never considered them spooky, haunting, or intimidating in any way. To the contrary, I was always fascinated by the older gravestones and more elaborate sculptures. I found cemeteries to be peaceful and calming – quite the opposite from how many are portrayed in television and films.

. St. Mary's Cemetery

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Introduction to Street Portrait Photography

Street Portraits (12)

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 :)

Street Portraits (11)

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!

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How to Deal With Harsh, Midday Lighting

How to deal with harsh lighting

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.

How to deal with harsh lighting

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.

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Introduction to Image Cropping

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If you took workshops and coursework on photography, chances are you’ve heard every mentor talk about understanding composition and learning to crop within the camera. Doing so will yield greatly composed photos and will limit your time in post production. But from time to time, you will come back with badly cropped photos which might have distracting elements in the background and the composition may not look spot on. If you are photographing portraits, even the slightest distraction may draw the viewer’s attention to something else than what you originally intended the viewer to concentrate on. At times like these, instead of deleting the photo, I want to give it another chance. Memories are precious and I do not mind cropping the photo to preserve what is important. Cropping images in post production will give you another chance to re-frame your shots and there are a number of different ways you can do this to achieve desirable results.

Creative Cropping (15)

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