Digital Portrait Photography Tips

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Three Tips to Improve Your Portraits

Did you ever notice how many people say that they "don't take a good picture"? No matter how much work you put into a protrait, they're too fat, or they have a double chin or the light is unflattering...

Well, you can eliminate many reasons for compaint quickly and easily - including the three above. Here's how:

If your subject is concerned about their weight, have them move one shoulder forward. (The other will naturally move back.) This slenderizes your subject by presenting a narrower view to the camera.

If your subject complains about their double chin, jsut have them lift their head slightly. This extension will smooth out the folds above the neck.

Finally, you don't have to invest in fancy lighting equipment to create flattering light for your digital portraits. Just buy a flash-mounted diffuser. These simple devices attach to your shoe-mount flash, and provide a softer, more flattering light. And they're inexpensive. B&H Photo offers a model from Dot Line that's under $15.00.

   

Getting Great Shots at Night

Several years ago, I visited "The Big E" - New England's largest fair - with my then-girlfriend, her sister and my trusty 2 MP Kodak DC 80. At one point, I posed the ladies for a night shot about 30 feet in front of one of the rides. The ride was festooned with colorful lights and stationary at the time. But I had a problem.

My Kodak digital camera - a fairly early model - only had two options: flash on and flash off. I chose to shoot without the flash - even though it was fairly dark, so that the ride in the background wouldn't be lost.

Although the ladies are somewhat under-exposed, it's still a favorite shot. The ride is there in the background. The two sisters - obviously fond of one another & mugging for the camera - are at least visible, if not perfectly exposed. And their smiles say it all. It's the almost-perfect fair picture.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you'll probably be luckier than I. That's because so many of today's compact digital cameras offer a scene mode called "night snapshot" (or something similar). This acts very much like the rear curtain sync of better film SLR's. Basically, it exposes the scene for a short period before the flash fires. Here's what that does:

The typical digital camera's flash isn't strong enough to light up anything more than a short distance from the camera. So let's say you're shooting your sweetheart in the evening with a cityscape in the background. When you take the shot in normal flash mode, the flash fires when the shutter opens, and - voila! - your sweetheart is well-lit and the background is lost.

Night snapshot mode (like rear curtain sync), however, opens the shutter for a very short time, and then fires the flash just before the shutter closes. This allows your camera's sensor to register at least some of the background light. When the flash fires, your sweetheart is also illuminated. But this picture will show much more background detail - especially any lights.

The resulting picture will have a more pleasing balance of foreground and background - and your sweetheart will love you all the more for capturing that special moment so well.

   

A Quick-n-Easy Way to Spruce Up Portraits

Maybe your brother-in-law wants a head shot for his blog... your cousin may want a photo to send her Internet dating beau... or your teenager doesn't want to spend the money for a school portrait. Whatever the reason, if you're handy with a camera, you'll be asked to shoot a portrait eventually.

And what's the #1 mistake with homemade portraits? An ugly or distracting background. Here's an easy way to make your protrait backgrounds look great - on the cheap...

You only need two ingredients for this quick fix: a door or tall bookcase and a clean, crisply pressed sheet. Hang the sheet carefully over the door or bookcase. (Make sure there are no wrinkles or creases.) Sit your subject 4' - 6' in front of your backdrop. Then fire away.

That's all there is to it. Now when you shoot protraits,you'll have no more embarrassing objects growing ot of heads, distacting background clutter or other problems that scream, "Amateur portrait!" to all your viewers.

Of course, there is one drawback. When your portraits start looking as good as a pro's, expect the rest of your relatives to come looking for you when they need a portrait, too.

   
What are hints to taking great self-portraits?

Self-portraits Made Simple

At one point or another, almost everyone needs (or wants) a good picture of themselves. So why not have your favorite digital photographer - you - take the shot? It's easy to do, and it doesn't require much in the way of special equipment.

To take a good self-portrait, all you need is your digital camera (with remote control or self-timer), a tripod and a good background to shoot against.

Your Background: Choose a background that's uncluttered. Make sure there are no objects or lines (such as window frames) that may appear to be "growing out of your head" in the finished portrait. Neutral colors make the best backgrounds. If you're using flash, pose yourself at least four feet in front of any walls to avoid shadows. Try to avoid backlit situations (for example, posing in front of a window with sunlight streaming through it).

Your Tripod: Any steady tripod that's rated at least for your camera's weight and tall enough to extend approximately to your height (standing or sitting) is fine. If you're shooting outdoors, consider suspending a weight below the tripod to add steadiness in any wind.

Your Camera: A camera with a remote control is ideal, since that will allow you to shoot without having to rush into your pose. A ten-second or longer self-timer is your next best choice. Pocket-sized cameras are usually a poor choice for indoor portraits. Their flash is usualy placed so close to the lens that red-eye is almost unavoidable. For flash photography, a hot-shoe mounted flash is best. If your camera has a manual focus option, pre-focus for where you'll be sitting or standing.

Now, simply shoot, make adjustments and shoot again until you have a pleasing digital portrait.

   
What are some problems a camera flash can cause when shooting digital portraits?

Easy Solutions to Flash Problems

If you shoot indoors, chances are that you use flash. Here are a few quick tips to avoid some common flash problems in your digital portraits:

Red-eye is the light from your flash reflecting off the back of the subject's eye - as in a mirror - and back to your camera. This happens because the camera's flash is too close to the lens, causing the light from the flash to travel almost directly back at the camera. Most cameras' red-eye reduction features are only partially effective, but there are things you can do to reduce red-eye yourself.

*Shoot candids. At gatherings, avoid having everyone stop what they're doing, bunch together and stare into the camera. Instead, shoot people in natural moments together, when they're not staring directly at the camera. You'll have to shoot more pictures to get "good ones," but that's no problem with digital cameras.

*Shoot protraits in partial profile. If your subject turns even slightly away from the flash, you'll get rid of that annoying red-eye. And you'll find that partial profile shots not only give your pictures a certain mood, theyll make your portraits stand out from everyone else's.

*Shut off the flash. If there's enough light in the room to shoot without flash, do so. Just set your digital camera's white balance for the type of light that's available. (Many cameras have an "auto" white balance setting that's remarkably accurate.)

Another common problem when using flash is the appearance of harsh shadows. This problem usually results when the subject is too close to the background. Simply move the cubject further away from the background and shoot again.

You may find that your informal portraits sometimes come out too dark. This problem typically results when you're too far from the subject. The flashes on most compact cameras have very limited ranges. If you find your subjects coming out too dark - even with flash - simply get in the habit of moving in a little closer.

Finally, you may find it takes longer and longer for your flash to be ready between shots (This is called "recycling."). When a camera's flash is taking "too long" to recycle, it's usually a sign of weak batteries. If you think you'll be taking a lot of flash pictures, be sure to carry spare batteries. Nobody like to hold a pose while your digital camera's flash recycles.

   
What are things to keep in mind when photographing kids?

Portraits Can be Child's Play

Even the best-behaved kids can have a bad day. And - especially for the smallest ones - waiting for Dad or Mom to set up the digital camera for a portrait can be trying. Here are a few tips to make shooting portraits of your children easier:

*Set up before you involve the kids. Choose your setting, get your camera and tripod set up and place any props. Once everything is in place, bring the kids in. Hint: Don't get them wound up or make them sit still someplace while you set up; they'll be anxious and antsy when picture time arrives. Instead, give them a favorite quiet activity to do, such as coloring or looking at picture books.

*Don't hide behind the camera. Once you have your shot framed, get out from behind the camera. Your children love your face... not your camera. You'll communicate happiness and calm much better if Mom or Dad's familiar smile is easy to see.

*Give them something to do. It isn't natural for a child to hold still, except when they're asleep. So trying to force them to strike and hold a pose is like trying to pour molasses uphill. Give them a favorite toy or a little leeway to move around. You're shooting digital here - there's no such thing as wasted film.

*Express what you want to see. To get their attention, talk to them in a normal tones. Don't show frustration. If you're calm and happy, you increase the chances that they will be, too. If you want a smile, smile at them. If you want them to laugh, be funny. But don't be unusual or weird... small children respond best to the familiar.

*If at first you don't succeed... Chances are, you don't have to get that portrait right this second. (If you do, consider a time-management course.) If your child is uncomfortable, cranky or uncooperative, call it a day. If you make picture time stressful, your child will grow to dislike it, the cycle will feed itself and picture time will eventually become traumatic for everyone involved.

Follow these few simple tips and you'll get better portraits more often. And your friends will probably be jealous of how much more "photogenic" your kids are than theirs.

   
What are other things you can use your digital portrait image for?

‘Tis the Season for Portraits

Thanks to digital photography, it's easier than ever to give photo potrait gifts. These make perfect holiday keepsakes for grandparents, godparents and far-flung relatives and friends.

Simply pose the family for a digital portrait, then use the digital file to create an astounding array of gifts. Of course, there are always traditional framed photos. You can have them printed at a traditional photo lab or an online service - or even print them yourself. But the list is much longer.

Mugs, t-shirts, holiday ornaments, mouse pads, calendars, mock magazine covers, baseballs... the list is nearly endless. You can also have hard-or soft-cover books printed. And "photo clings" stick to almost any surface, but can be removed and restuck to nearly anything innumerable times.

Or take a series of portraits - group and individual shots - load them on a digital picture frame and present that to grandma and grandpa as a holiday gift.

You can even send your family portrait to everyone on your list - and still have it appreciated. Just take your favorite digital shot and print it on your holiday cards.

   
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Patricia Walters-Fischer