13 Tips for Improving Outdoor Portraits

Outdoor Portraits present portrait photographers a variety of challenges and opportunities. Today James Pickett suggests 13 tips to help you with your outdoor portrait work

With my very first digital SLR there was a sigh of relief, everything was going to be so much easier now and I didn’t have to think anymore.

You know the scenario; you pull the camera out, charge the batteries, go for a walk around the house and down the street taking the same pictures you have taken every time a new camera came into your life. “This is great!” you think to yourself, “this is going to make my life so much easier!” I was wrong… In fact, I was dead wrong.

There are three very simple things that improve all photography, including portraits. To this day, there is no trick I have found that replaces the need for proper exposure, white balance, and sharp focus. Today’s digital cameras have less exposure latitude than a roll of Kodak gold film. In-camera metering systems have become much more advanced, but the sensors still lack the seven ƒ-stop exposure latitude that negative film has.

1) Never select all of the focus points for portraits, pick one.

When you pick the autofocus option that allows the camera to select focus points, you are doing your portraits a terrible disservice. This feature of a camera is usually designed to pick whatever is closest to the lens and focus there. In some cases, like with my 1DS Mark III, the camera will choose a cluster of focus points and make a “best guess” based on averaging the distance between all of the chosen points. Using one focus point gives you, the photographer, ultimate control.

2) Always focus on the eyes.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, and should be the focal point of any good portrait. Not only are the eyes the most important part of a good portrait, but they are the sharpest element on the face and should be left that way. When you are shooting with a wide aperture value focused on the eyes, the lens’s bokeh will aid in softening the skin as well.

3) Shoot wide open for shallow depth of field.

There are quite a few reasons to invest in a fast lens capable of wide aperture values; the most common is for shallow depth of field. Now that you can shoot at ƒ2.8 or ƒ4 you should use it. Most fantastic natural light portraits are from wide aperture values and it is all because of the wonderful smooth background blur we call “bokeh”.

4) Never, ever, shoot a portrait at less than 50mm; try to stay at 70mm or higher.

The last thing you want to hear from a client is “Why does my head look swelled?” Any focal length below 70mm can distort your subject, however it doesn’t become very noticeable until you are below 50 MM. The compression effect of a telephoto lens will also increase the blur of bokeh. Most of my portraits are done between 120mm and 200mm.

5) Always shoot in RAW.

A thousand times these words have bellowed from my mouth, and it will surely come out a million more. Raw is an unmodified compilation of your sensors data during the time of exposure. It is your digital negative. When you shoot in JPG format, everything but what the image processor needs to make a shell representation of the image you intended to capture is stripped away. For every edit you make to a JPG, you lose more data. With RAW, you can make a vast range of edits before creating the JPG. How can this make you portrait better? Think about the last time your white balance was set incorrectly, and you tried for hours to remove the color cast only to destroy the image with every attempt. RAW would have saved you by allowing you to fix the color before opening the image for retouching.

6) Always bring a gray card or a piece of a gray card for white balance.

You got me, gray cards aren’t free. However, $5.95 US for a cardboard Kodak gray card is darn close. To avoid confusion, I am going to explain this backwards. When opening Adobe Camera Raw or any other RAW image editing application there is always a way to select a custom white balance. Usually it is an eyedropper of some kind that you can use to click on what you think is neutral gray in your image. Imagine a world where your photo shoot involved 4 locations and a total of 800 images, and all day the camera was set to Auto White Balance. That is 800 different white balance values, a post production nightmare. If, at each location, you have your subject hold the gray card on the first shot, you will save hours of work. When you open location one (200 images) in your favorite post production application, all you have to do is click the eye dropper on the gray card, select all and synchronize the rest. Precious hours have been saved. (If you plan on taking your time, it may be wise to do this once every 30 minutes or so to compensate for the changing light of day.)

7) Shoot in the shade (Avoid direct sunlight)

Direct sunlight is harsh, makes your subject squint, and creates hard directional shadows and unpredictable white balance conditions. When shooting in the shade, there are no more harsh shadows, only smooth milky shadows created by your subject’s natural features. With proper exposure and white balance, you can make these shots look amazing.

Read the full article in: Digital Photography School

Tips for Stress-Free Wedding Photography

As wedding photographers, we love to think photography is the most important element of a bride and groom’s wedding day. Surely they want fabulous wedding photography, so certainly they will give us all the time in the world to create beautiful images.

But it doesn’t really work that way. Weddings are busy. Often you are scrambling to get all the images you need really quickly, leaving no time for the fun, romantic images you really want to create for the couple. Worse yet, someone springs a pose list on you that you weren’t expecting, or changes the location everyone is meeting for family portraits.

The easiest way to make sure you have enough time for all the photographs you want to create on the wedding day, is to know how much time you need and to be prepared.

Know how much time you really need

Depending on their style and process, every photographer needs a different amount of time to take photographs at a wedding. As well every wedding is different, with unique locations, bridal parties, and families.

If you are not certain how long it takes you to create the images you need, time yourself. When you know your own process, you will be better able to help the bride and groom accurately schedule enough time for all the photographs.

Can you travel to the beautiful park the couple wants to use for photographs between the ceremony and reception? Or did they forget to allow for the time it actually takes to drive there? Do you need 20 minutes to photograph the family, or is it really more like 45 minutes when you include the set up of lighting equipment?

Look for open pockets of time in their schedule during the day. You may not get all the photography time together in one block, but when you know how long you need for each session, you can schedule it to work within the couple’s timeline.

Tips for finding enough photography time on the wedding day

Pre-Wedding planning consultation

Have a pre-wedding consultation. A final consultation one to two weeks before the wedding is a perfect time to go over details. Discussing the timeline with the bride and groom before the wedding will let you see where photography will best fit into the day. It will also help them see how much time you need to do your job well. This is close enough to the big day that they should know all the details, yet far enough out that they can tweak schedules, if need be.

Ask about other wedding vendors. Find out how everyone from the florist to the caterer will also fit into the couple’s day. The follow questions may help you:

  • Ask when hair and make-up appointments are scheduled to be done and where.
  • Find out where the flowers are being delivered and at what time.
  • Ask how long the ceremony will last and how they plan to personalize it.
  • Know if the couple will do a receiving line, or somehow greet guests formally right after the ceremony.
  • Confirm what time they want to arrive at the reception.
  • What time will dinner be served,
  • When would the DJ or band like to start the dance.

Knowing when the other professionals need the attention of the bride and groom will help you know when it’s your turn.

Plan for family portraits. Many photographers balk at the “dreaded pose list,” but capturing family photographs is an important part of wedding photography. To make the process of organizing family portraits easier, find out who’s in the their families, and what groupings are important to the couple. When you set the time for the wedding photographs, have the bride and groom inform everyone of the timeline, so they will be ready when it’s time to start.

Remember to add in travel time. Often the ceremony and reception are in different locations, and sometimes the couple likes to stop off at a third spot just for photographs. Make sure to add in the time that it will take to drive to these places into the schedule.

Read the full article in Digital Photography School

Creative Ways to Photograph Wedding Rings Using Household Objects

Photos of wedding rings arranged together before they are exchanged are must-have detail shots for every wedding. Wedding photographers are always looking for creative ways to photograph rings. This video by Magic Lens Group takes us through several ways to light the rings incorporating household objects to achieve moody colors and dynamically lit backgrounds.

A Practical Guide to Learning and Evaluating a Lens

So, you're thinking of dropping that stack of cash you've been saving up on that light-guzzling bokeh monster of an 85mm you've been eyeing. But how do you know it's the right lens for you? This great video will give you a model to follow.

Wedding Portraits – 5 Tips for Getting Out of a Creative Rut

As a professional photographer, it is normal to take a fair amount of pride in your work. In an ideal world, everyone would take pride in their work; but photographers in particular are usually people who own their business, who are doing something they love and who are creative by nature.

It can be particularly frustrating when you feel that you aren’t doing your very best work. Even if the customer is happy, you want to keep doing your best and you want to keep growing and learning in your craft. Getting compliments or rave reviews are great, but that feeling when you take your latest and best image is unforgettable.

How to Find Good Locations for Family Portraits

When you’re shooting a family portrait, about nine out of 10 times the client will ask, “Do you have a place you typically like to shoot?”

We all do, of course, but if you take every portrait client to the same location, your portfolio will develop an undesirable, repetitive consistency. So, it’s important to thoroughly scout the area where you live and work, to build a list of go-to spots for any scenario, circumstance, and style.

Posing Tips for Portraits – Shoulders

When taking head shot and upper body portraits of people one simple posing tip that I’ve picked up over the years is to angle the shoulders of your subject rather than to have them even or squared in your shot.

While the shoulders might not seem like an important aspect of a portrait they can actually set the tone for an image as they’re the widest part of your subject and they are visually what the main point of focus for your image (the head) is sitting upon.

5 Simple Secrets To Sharper Photos

Many factors play a part in image sharpness, not the least of which is the lens.  Most of us who ever pick up a camera judge our images, at least in part, on overall sharpness.  Before you go out and plunk down some hard earned cash on that top of the line pro-level lens you’ve been drooling over, think about these steps you can take with the lenses you already own to get sharper images.

  1. Pay attention to the basics.  Hold the camera properly.  Your right hand should grip the camera with your finger ready to press the shutter button. Your left hand should cradle the lens. Tuck your elbows firmly against your side. Press the eye cup of the camera firmly against your head.  This three-point stance stabilizes the camera and holds it steadier than holding the camera out and away from your face, with your arms extended.

Let’s Have a Laugh! – Using Humor in Photography

Go on! You know it is good for you! Let’s have a laugh! This article is about using humor in photography.

This article is not so much Five Handy Tips, as it is more a case of Three Gentle Nudges. Maybe you are like me and can be a bit too serious about your photography. I am suggesting that you let go a little. Even one photograph which makes you smile has got to be worth letting go, relaxing a little. It may be that it is only you who is caused to smile, but I absolutely think that is worth it on its own. Then again, you might make tens, hundreds, even thousands of others smile. That has got to be a good thing, hasn’

5 Great Ways To Grow as a Photographer

Here are 5 great ways you can grow as a photographer—along with the features we’ve built to help get you there.

1) Develop your photography skills by learning from pros

It’s crazy how much there is to learn about photography. Lighting. Composition. Post-processing. There are all the specific techniques that come with different genres, from portrait photography to landscape photography. There’s the business side of it. And sure, you can read tutorials online or watch a video, but it’s more beneficial when it’s more interactive—when you can learn from the photographers you admire and get feedback on what you’re doing.