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| p.1 #9 · How do i make this better? |
Ooops, I just got carried away, sorry for the essay. Please would somebody read it and tell me it's not mindless drivel, Please!
Regarding the original question: Editing wise, you take it for what it is, a nice family snapshot taken in the circumstances that were there.
It's well enough exposed and in focus, it shows who was where and that they're happy.
Blurring the background here takes it out of context for me. You lose part of the story.
Family looking back in 30 years will thrill to recognising the background and being able to place where it was taken.
If you want your portraits to be better in general, that's a different thing. Then, instead of just point and shoot, you need to consider so many, many things, here's a few in order of how I think about it now. (I may have worried about it differently in the past, I'm sure it will change in the future...)
First off, how willing are my subjects to help me get a beautiful shot?
You see too many technically perfect shots of bored wives and girlfriends or people with the 'am I doing this right face'. Reassurance and humour are great tools here.
For me, keeping the mood overides technicals. Always.
If the above shot is as far as your subjects were happy to go for the shot, then you've done the best you can. The happy mood comes through and the story is told. Job done.
Secondly, can I get my enthusiastic and happy to help subjects someplace where the light is already excelent?
THIS is the key, the light.
A photographer I was helping out the other day was struggling in a room with bright sunlight streaming in through tall narrow windows. He just didn't understand that the combination of window light and a golden reflection from the floor was giving near perfect light. All his shots were just overblown or shadows.
The five words that blew his mind and took his photography to a new level were "it's all about the light." Suddenly he was edge lighting, backlighting, using fill, keeping the highlights out of the background. It was such a great epiphany to watch.
On to specifics: generally, one very bright, continuous point source of light, high overhead is about as unflattering as possible.
Think about what circumstances that happens in and particularly, what drops into shadow on a persons face in that circumstance.
Better situations are when the light is moderated, usually at a lower angle, light coming through a window, light bouncing off water, light from the setting sun cutting through a huge amount of atmosphere, these are good situations to look for and play with.
I have a 'found light' project where I take someone out night shooting in an urban area and only use the light sources I find on the street. It's a great way of learning a few things. How to get good focus in bad situations, how to hold a camera REALLY still and best of all how to see light. When you don't have enough, you treasure what you find!
You'll be working on other aspects of your photography whilst you are developing a feel for light,
(which can also be developed and helped by using one off-camera flash and spending the time going through David Hobby's Strobist Lighting 101. It's FREE and you won't get better lighting training anywhere at that price, his stuff is gold in terms of level and ease of understanding,)
Composition. This means that what you see in the viewfinder needs to look like what you want to see in print.
I've a useful mental tool that puts the viewfinder image on the page of a magazine, if it looks right I press the button.
Composition is a huge subject encompassing depth of field, brightness zones, colours, shapes, rule of thirds, dynamic diagonals, leading lines, blocked and open spaces and a hundred other ways of breaking down an image into manageable lumps.
A good place to start is to make sure the background is appropriate, (with no lines breaking peoples heads.) Apply the rule of thirds and see how your images come out.
Looking at really well made films is a great way of stuying composition, in particular how it interacts with colour and lighting. Look out for teal and orange, there are internet bonus points for working out why it's used so much...
NOW you can worry about your exposure and focus. (I had it backwards for the longest time, mind you, the first 30 years were probably the worst...)
What is the point in taking a dull photo even if it's perfectly exposed and in focus. Get the image right and then you have some REAL motivation for getting your focus and exposure correct! There's nothing worse than having a glorious shot ruined by the focus being out or the camera set wrong.
This is an awful lot to think about, and there are layers upon layers of it to learn.
Fortunately each layer gets easier with practice.
Whilst I was learning to hold all of these delicate eggs balanced on the top of a bendy pole, it wasn't unusual for my head to feel like it was imploding. Now it's mostly reflex or at most a few seconds thought. Leaving more brain power left to communicate with my subjects, see my top priority for the importance of that! ( I'm still learning to keep the geek speak inside my head however. Some people find it unnerving when I start muttering into my beard.)
I hope breaking things down like this is a help to you. I know it is to me, as I'll be teaching this in a basic workshop in a few weeks time. I hadn't previously seen that I have a set order for shooting. I've also realised that this method applies to everything I shoot, if in a somewhat abstract manner. Here's a breakdown:
#1) happy subject.
Landscapes, the right time of year, no litter, full lakes.
Wildlife, unthreatened and in good condition.
Street/voyeuristic journalism, subject completely unaware.
Portraits, getting on well with the subject. I guess there is a form of confrontational photography that disregards this, but you could abstract it to say 'subject doing what I want by being interesting'
#2) The Light. You take what you can get, and you try and get the best. If that means manipulating subjects or using flashes then you do what it takes.
On a found light mission, I found a steaming ventilation grill from a public aquarium. A taxi happened to stop nearby. I asked, and he was willing to put his lights on full and move his car a bit to be a part of the shot, the results are sublime
#3) Composition, WYSIWYG. Make the viewfinder look like a page in National Geographic, Vogue or Playboy or whatever your preferred style is. (you may need to use a little imagination if you are using flash with no modelling light. You may have to allow for what you are planning in post processing too, but I digress.)
#4)Focus and Exposure. A well focused and exposed photo is not neccesarily a good photo. A slightly mis-exposed or out of focus photo can be 'styled' and be greatly admired.
Of course, it's way more complex than that...
On the left hand side of my website are 'daily updates' where I post my latest work, or sometimes just some thoughts. I suspect this post will get mutated into an update in the near future. Possibly as reading material for my workshop attendees, so they know what they're letting themselves in for!
You are more than welcome to come and browse, you can even leave comments
I'd like discussion on these ideas, please chime in with your thoughts everyone.
If all you do is move one flash off axis you have no control over the shadows, which are what convey the mood and environment of the subjects in the flash lit foreground.
I must be taking this out of context, because that's exactly what I do for some of my better work!
I don't think you can be saying that one off axis flash is a bad thing and it must always have another flash working with it. I suspect Zach Arias would disagree with that too. (GIYF)
Come to think of it, I don't actually own a hotshoe flash that fits my camera.
The mantis photo is beautiful by the way.