19 February 2008

SIMPLE Portrait Photography

Sometimes I get requests or commissions to do portraits of people's kids for them. I will be the first to admit, even though I did make side money doing other people's self portraits in high school art class, portraits are really not my thing. I have no good reason, other than maybe a lack of patience. Nonetheless, out of some sort of masochism, I still agree to do them now and again. However, kids are notoriously fidgety and restless, and getting them to sit for a session is a joke. Not to mention really unnecessary (unless you feel like sitting on them while you draw, which even parents with a good sense of humor tend to frown on), when you can take a picture. So never fear, portrait wanter! Even you (yes, you) can do this!

I know, I know. You can't draw a stick figure. Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before. I'm not talking about drawing a portrait. Just like Law and Order made the average joe a lawyer, and ER made everyone doctors, digital cameras can magically change you into a photographer. Why? Because you can take a million pictures, delete the crappy ones, and keep the gem. Even pros take a roll of film expecting one good picture. So don't get discouraged.

So here are simple rules (yes, there are always more and better ways) for taking a decent picture of your kids. Follow these if you want someone (maybe me) to do a portrait drawing from a picture, or if you just want a decent picture. Forget Sears-those high school kids follow a formula. Years from now, you want a more candid shot that shows their personality, trust me.

INDOORS (daytime):

  • Set the kid(s) up close together in front of a wall or nice background (not a window)
  • Let them be themselves-laughing pictures, even fighting pictures, are always better than posed ones, trust me!
  • Put the light (without a lamp shade if possible) to the side of them, slightly higher than their head if you can
  • If possible, have someone help you by holding a white posterboard on the opposite side of their face from the light. You will see this bounce some light back into the shadows.
  • Turn on all the other lights around, open all the blinds, etc.
  • TURN OFF YOUR FLASH! It is not your friend.
  • Put the camera on a tripod (or a table if you dont have one-but hold tight onto the camera then)
  • Get as close to them as you can (try to fill the frame with them from shoulders up)
  • Take a deep breath, hold it, and press down on the button to take the pic

OUTDOORS (daytime):

  • Follow all of the above.
  • Make sure your back is to the sun without blinding the kids. Squinting pics are bad.
  • Overcast days (kinda cloudy) make the best pictures. Just because you think it is a beautiful day doesn't mean the camera does.

While my examples above aren't perfect, (ex. those dumb stripes on my wall), hey, I did it in 5 minutes. The one on the left is without a flash, and the one on the right is with it. See what a difference the lighting makes?

Good luck!

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