Photos of Portraits vs flowers


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Oct 2, 2005
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Reason why I got my camera was to do Photographs of my kids.. Ages are 2 4 5 and 6.. I have posted flower pictures and have had great comments from friends, family and the garden where I take a lot of pictures themsvelves. AS For people pictures... WHY is it so hard for me?? I Feel like I dont have what it takes to do people, but doing flowers just comes like the breeze... NO thinking about it, NO worrying about juts do it and go... When I do this why my kids,, Granted I get some good pictures, but as far as potraits I cant seem to get it right...

Question for you who do portraits... WHAT do I need to do to get some GOOD ones? Where do I begin I Guess is my first question. then where do I go from there...

Any advice would be great!

Probably a silly question, but what is it about your portraits you're not happy with? Composition? Light? If it's just a general feeling that they seem too 'staged' then I guess the key is to draw the subject's attention away from the fact that they're being photographed, which often either makes people feel awkward or makes them try too hard at posing. After composing the shot, try and keep eye contact with the subject as much as possible rather than looking at the camera. That relationship between photographer and subject would seem to be the main difference between photographing people and still-life.
Are you experimenting with different lighting techniques? Lighting your subject correctly is just as important as posing/composition.

Direct, on-camera flash is rarely flattering to faces. If your flash head is articulated, try bouncing the light of a wall or low ceiling. It it’s not articulated, try diffusing the flash with a taped on bit of white paper or semi-opaque white plastic (a chunk of one of those thin, flexible cutting boards works well).

You might also try posing your subject in the in-direct light of a window.

When shooting outdoors, try to avoid direct sunlight (generally speaking), particularly mid-day sunlight. Look for a shaded area and if necessary, use your on camera flash for fill. Cloudy days are my favorite for portraiture… The cloud cover acts as a huge softbox!
As well as soft lighting, softness of image in general is also often preferable for portraits, whether that means using a softer lens, a filter, or doing the work later in PS.
Wow lots of stuff.. YES Lighting would be my Issue... Either the Flash I use because I dont have great lighting *YET* OR because I have not yet mastered the Manual settings on my camera to take pictures with out the flash.. WHEN I have done that I got some pretty BAD pictures..

Example below....



As you can see these didnt come out great AT all.. Because I tried with out the flash.. I seem to use flash for every thing...

As far as covering my flash with a softer piece of paper like vellum or light white of some sort.... Does this reduce the light OR prevent a high glow on the subject?

The objective is to create a larger and softer light source. Try creating a semi-circle of your chosen material in front of the flash head. As suggested by someone else in a different thread, a smallish translucent white Tupperware type bowl placed in front of your flash head would work wonders for diffusing flash… Attaching a bowl to your camera isn’t the easiest thing to do however, but you get the idea.

This diffused flash, regardless of how you achieve it, helps the light to wrap more softly around your subject, minimizing shadows and hot spots.

Diffusing the flash will of course, drop its output a stop or two, increasing exposure time. Put your Lumix in manual and experiment!

ZaphodB made an excellent point in his post… A bit of softening in PS (or similar) is often pleasing to the eye. Try a hint of gaussian blur in your postproduction work on your photos.
The easiest thing you can do right now, to make your portraits better, is to sit your kids down next to a window. Let the window light do the trick. You can get a large piece of foamcore, and cover it with tin foil. Put this on the opposite side of the window, to bounce some light on the dark side of the face. Voila.

Don't shoot them straight on either. Have them sit at a 45 degree angle, with 1 shoulder pointed towards you. It will work wonders to take the squarishness out of the shot.
The problems I see with your pictures and their solutions are the exact same I had when I was starting out with people shots:

1. Flat lighting - As Matt quite rightly says, you need more and brighter light. Reflectors are idiot proof and I swear by them. Make one out of tinfoil and something stiff. They are great because the light should come from one side predominantly and be filled from the other - this happens naturally as reflectors never reflect *all* the light from the source. Experiment, but generally, if the window is above them, position the reflector below them. Aim to have two light sources coming from forty five degree angles to your lens.

2. Lack of contrast to background. The bg you chose there was nigh on identical in tone to your son's shirt. Therefore to gain any separation (depth) you need to have contrasting light on the shirt, or colour on the bg. Generally aim to light your subject a good bit better than the bg to achieve a pleasant 3D effect.

3. Mugshot/Passport photo. As Matt said - a shoulder turn, upward or downward glance or some kind of dynamism is essential - flat on is very rarely effective.

4. Insufficient lighting. Kids move fast, even when they're "being good" and "sitting still". You need a shutter speed - IMHO above 1/125th with a 50mm lens, i.e. an exposure double your focal length, so a 100mm lens should be at least 1/250th to remove blur of any kind.

5. Tripod constriction. I suspect a few people will disagree with me here, but..... "don't use tripods with kids" They move too much and if your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze them, then you should be able to hand hold with no problems. Kids don't like nasty machines, your face should be presented to them 90% of the time, not the camera lens.

6. Props. Kids identify well with involvement. What's his favourite comic/book/toy/thing? Get that and take his picture with it - even if you end up cropping it out. Natural smiles are the way forward, so they've got to be having fun. Whether you achieve that with saying silly things, wearing a silly hat, playing with a sock monkey, or just plain giving them a toy; it works. Also, if they associate having their picture taken with a good experience, they'll be more likely to put up with it again!

7. Wide aperture, low f-number, appropriate ISO. IMO, stick the camera in A or Ap mode and get the lens wide open to >f2 and <f5.6. Then adjust the ISO to a sensible level for getting 1/(focal length x 2). So, if a 100mm lens at ISO 100 and f4 gives an exposure of 1/125th, stick it to ISO 200 and get an exposure of 1/250th. So, adding 100 ISO results in doubling of exposure time, perhaps making the difference between sharp and fuzzy.

8. Prepare. Kids have less patience than adults - get the area set up ahead of time, prepare your settings in A or Ap mode and get things right before you start. If you have an older child who will be willing to sit there and help by being a guinea pig for exposure readings, get them to help. Kids sometimes have great ideas as well - involve them in the process if they're inclined to be curious.

9. Practice. These things aren't easy, and a few more sessions may be enough for you to get results on a par with a normal local photographer!! If that isn't motivation to try again, then what is??

10. Get feedback and re-evaluate and learn. Post your results here, once you've had a look at the suggestions and got a feel for some improvements. We're here to help, and pointing out areas which could be tweaked in a photo is the most valuable way to improve. That goes for every level, whether beginner or "pro".

Good luck, hope these comments help!

Great tips, thus far. And, another vote for window lighting :thumbup: .
But it all depends on how you want your portraits to look like.

Holly, who is your favourite photographer(s)?
I mean, whose work do you think is "GOOD"?
I read through all your advice on taking portrait pics of someone (one's own kids here, preferably) and immediately set out to build myself a reflector (or two) to then try those out on my own kids. One was busy working on his computer (boy, 17), one was busy watching television (girl, 13), so both were caught up in things they did, which made them sit still.
Which is easier for THEM since they are a lot older than your kids, Holly.
Only did neither look towards me and the camera!
Though sometimes I could MAKE them look for that one instance.

I am not happy with the results, but that is mainly because both are having skin problems right now (too much exposure to chlorined water in my daughter's case!!! and my son's had eczema ever since he's been 4 weeks old, poor him) ... plus I could not direct the reflected light so I would get the desired light points in their eyes.

I also later tried the cut-open-semi-opaque-film-container-over-on-camera-flash-method (very technical term, this one :biggrin: ), but my son would kill me if I showed the results of my experiments, what with his skin looking so mottled.

I do find that flowers are kinder!
Thought I have had to train on that sort of photography, too, to find out how to BEST put them into the frame...!
Corrina, the part about window light is really the most important. Have them next to a window and look outside.

Here is an example of window light. No reflector was used here. I just had Sandra sit in her favorite chair and I told her to look out the window. One shot and we were done.

The aluminum-foil-on-foamcore-board reflector is my favorite thing I've ever built. However, I've found that I like it better when I crinkle the foil into a ball (not too tightly), then carefully spread it back out (careful, because it tears easily) and tape it down. I like that quality of light better.

As far as portraits go, I'm not the best in the world, and I've rarely photographed children (none of my own, and I don't like photographing other peoples', though I take pictures of my sister's kids whenever I can). But I've accidentally made a few good ones, and tried to figure out what worked with them.... these are a few points I've noticed.

-Focus on the eyes, especially when working close to the subject in low light (wide aperture). It's the eyes that make the portrait.

-Like others have said, have some contrast between the subject and background. One of the best portraits I've ever taken was a coworker wearing a bright orange fleece jacket and orange-tinted sunglasses, in a background that was snow and muddy ground (springtime in Alaska). Very bright subject, very drab background. Thankfully, I was using a wide aperture so the background was pretty soft.

-Shooting from the right angle is important... both in avoiding the square-on shot, and also shooting from the right height. I've heard many times that you should get down on the subjects level, especially with children. As adults, we're always looking down on them, so to speak, and seeing them at the same or from a lower level can be exciting. Plus, they might be amused by you laying on the floor to take their picture.

-Crop close. If you've got a square-on head-and-shoulders shot, don't be afraid to try croping out some of the torso, a shoulder, or even part of the head, to alter the balance of the image. Experiment with this; some crops are disturbing, but when you get a good one, it can look great.

-This goes with the last one... don't use a wide angle lens from too close. This can make the nose look huge.

-Get them in their environment, playing with each other, or with favorite toys, or doing something rather than just standing there.

Lots of practice is the key. Take lots of pictures, you won't regret it later, and the pictures will get better and better. Most of all, have fun!
bigfatbadger said:
Good advice everyone, Holly, have you thought about doing some portraits outside?

This is something I will certainly concider... Thanks!
Digital Matt said:
The easiest thing you can do right now, to make your portraits better, is to sit your kids down next to a window. Let the window light do the trick. You can get a large piece of foamcore, and cover it with tin foil. Put this on the opposite side of the window, to bounce some light on the dark side of the face. Voila.

Don't shoot them straight on either. Have them sit at a 45 degree angle, with 1 shoulder pointed towards you. It will work wonders to take the squarishness out of the shot.

Matt Question :)

IF I do window lighting... I saw your photo of Sandra... She is facing the window.. WHAT If I want them to face me??? Im going to do some Test shots of Window lighting to share with you! :) BOY I have seen your Photography with Portraits so Im sure you will help out where ever you can with GOOD advice ;)


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