Shooting portraits

On a group on Facebook, a beginner posted links to some nice vivid family photos and asked how he could do the same. I posted the reply below. His own camera is a Nikon D90 with a 50mm f1.8 prime lens.

Yes, you can achieve the same sort of results with your camera.

The Nikon D90 is an excellent camera and you have a great prime lens. You have the choice of generating the images tweaked the way you want in camera and output as JPEG files or using unprocessed raw files that you then process on your computer. There is a lot of advice on the web about the best ways to set the profiles on a Nikon D90 to produce various results.

There are many raw processors around, some are free or very cheap, and you should have got a basic one with the D90 from Nikon.

There are many photo editing applications around. Whilst Photoshop is the best known, consider also the current versions of Paint Shop Pro from Corel and Photoshop Elements from Adobe. Also, look at free options such as the open source GIMP (photoshop like) application or Google’s free Picasa.

It is not really about the software though. You should focus on getting things right in the camera in the first place as much as possible.

Remember, it is all about the light. Some tips:

  1. Learn to shoot using natural light – especially preferred for the shooting of babies
  2. Shoot when light is well diffused – cloudy days are best, net/shower curtains over bright windows are great for indoor shots.
    1. Avoid harsh, direct light (midday sunlight is not at all flattering) – best outdoor light lasts for around an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening – the golden hours around sunrise and sunset when the sun is low in the sky, a lot weaker and helps to give scenes a lot more texture.
  3. Learn to use cheap big reflectors (large reflective boards from your local DIY store) to bounce/reflect light to where you need it.
  4. Learn how to use your aperture settings to control the depth of field so you get just the effect and impact you are after (typically popping the subject from the background)
  5. Read these “rules” on portrait photography:
  6. Learn to read the histogram on the back of your camera to check exposure and do NOT rely on just the picture preview.
  7. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  8. Only when you have mastered your camera and are managing light to a level where you are comfortable in what you are doing and know how to go about getting the results you are after, should you start to think about playing with software to any significant extent.
Portrait 1 – natural light

This photo was taken using the first Pentax digital SLR with a basic zoom lens. You have much better quality equipment.The subject is sat in a chair near a window that has a net curtain drawn across it and my wife is holding a white chopping board (yes, a chopping board – we were in a holiday cottage in Scotland) near to the left hand side of the face of the subject to reflect some of that window light on to the side of the face that would otherwise be a bit too dark (you want different levels of light around the face to help shape it but not too great a difference or you end up with some bits overexposed or other bits too dark).

The wall paper behind the subject is sufficiently far behind for the aperture I was using for it to be out of focus. We had removed a picture from the wall first.

The black and white with blue eyes effect is somewhat clichéd but easy to do in just about any photo editing package; in photoshop or paintshop it is along these lines: duplicate the layer, use the channel mixed in monochrome mode to make the topmost layer go grey, adjusting red/green/channels to get the best image you can (we stopped trying to add up to 100% years ago), and add a mask the layer to show though the original eye colour.

Portrait 2 – natural and flash light combined

This photo, by contrast, was taken with a D300 (which, in picture quality terms, is slightly inferior to the D90) but with the help of some Nikon flashguns in softboxes.

It was processed in Photoshop Lightroom from the raw file. Processing was very light, just setting the white balance correctly and boosting the blacks a little.

Posted via email from kyber’s posterous

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