Monday, December 5, 2011

Pursuit of the Better SP ~ Part II

"Finally Smiling!"

So here we are with Part II of my quest for a better self portrait. With the inclusion of some very important tips, I was able to get a few images I felt good about. This is STILL not my favorite activity of all time but it was good for me to get a better handle on this particular subject. I'm including two of my favorites today.
Here's what went down....

Last week I said my basic approach was just playing with my settings and trying to get some over all good light. But let's face it, it was boring light. In order to get some interesting light with nice coverage, I took a moment to get an exposure that wasn't being affected by the ambient light in the room at all, so basically, my test shot result was a black screen. This is the only time that this is a good thing. But it was all about to change! Enter my speedlight and reflector/light panel. The flash was about to override any available light in the room and help me get better portraits. I placed my flash fairly close to my location, at half power and aimed/bounced it behind and up into my reflector. This disperses your flash light evenly and with better quality than just the flash aimed at the subject. (Do a little experiment next time with just flash and then flash diffused or bounced out towards the subject and see the difference in editing.) 

With my flash being controlled totally by the camera, it made it easy to change settings too instead of running over to the one and then the other. I had my reflector on a stand, clipped at an angle and positioned just in front and to the right of me. I positioned the camera at eye level, and quite close to create a more intimate portrait. Still using my 50mm prime lens at a softer aperture of about 2.8 - 4.5 meant getting a depth of field with some drama. And the smaller the aperture, the more powerful the flash setting needed to be. Why? Because the light I ultimately wanted for the shot needed to break through the available light currently in the room. When I first learned this concept, flash photography really began to make sense to me as another type of artist's tool, and not something scary to overcome.
I did start out with the flash at it's maximum sync speed, but decided artistically that dialing it down to half created a light I liked.

At half power, I started to get very subtle soft shadows. This adds volume to the image and avoids looking harsh and flat. Later in processing, I used curves to ensure that there were also nice highlights to balance out the shadow areas without having too much contrast. Skin tones in portraits need to seem soft and clean. Save your edgy, clarified, high pass sharpening skills for more editorial or street photo type portraits. There's nothing worse than razor sharp wrinkles and features with deep contrasting lines within a classic portrait. What I did pay attention to in processing was the odd blemish, and the detail around the eyes. And I'm deathly opposed to making people look like wax figures with that often overused skin-softening tool. So just the make-over brush was used to even skin tones in the odd spot.

I've done one in B&W and one in color today... I may yet attempt to get a better B&W done. Am not sure if I like so many dark areas in the final one above. But it's much improved from last week's portrait and that was the point of this exercise. The moral of this pursuit? Everything takes practice, your flash is a wicked tool the minute you remove it from on top of your camera, and that if you truly want to know how many wrinkles you have, just smirk into a 50mm portrait lens.... you can count each and every one. Sigh.

"Yours Truly"

Thanks for following along on this journey not yet over, and have a
super Monday gang!


  1. Your tips are very helpful Christine. Even with my camera, which isn't the best of the bunch, I can see what you are trying to do, and I will attempt this with my camera. I know that it takes time and a lot of practice to achieve what you have done, but WOW!!! the advice and descriptions on how to....are so very helpful. Did you know you are a very good teacher?? If you haven't been told this, I am telling you now. Thanks for all your tips thus far and the tips you will continue to give.

  2. I'm so glad folks out there are being encouraged to learn more about their cameras and light! Thanks Lori... it's been mentioned a few times now that folks would like me to do a beginner's course on a creative approach to photography... this might be something I'll seriously look into in the new year! Thanks again :)