Posts Tagged ‘composition’
This just in from the Let’s Finally Have Fun Around Here Department. It certainly helps to have a tripod for this, but it’s not mandatory. You do, however, need to position your camera in a place where it’s perfectly still for several seconds—in complete darkness.
We’re going to paint with light. (I know, it sounds horrible— painting I mean—but it’s actually quite miraculous so bear with me. You won’t need to soak brushes afterwards and cleanup is minimal.)
You’re going to use your cell phone as the light source. Let’s start with some reasonably small object. Think in terms of the classic breadbox size. I used a vase and a microphone. There’s plenty of opportunity here to be creative. Pick something you really like because it’s highly likely you’re going to take a picture you’re going to love. Something made of glass works great. It catches so many reflections. It’s helpful if the object you choose is light in color. Something pure black just would not have the impact—although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there proved me wrong. I was too lazy to go to the flower store for my presentation today, but I’m thinking you could shoot drop dead gorgeous pictures of flowers with this technique.
Put your camera on the tripod. Put your camera on manual focus and focus on the object. Compose your picture.
You don’t need a high ISO for this—I used 100. After some experimentation, I determined that F8 and a 15 second exposure looked pretty good. Notice that that’s a 15 second exposure and not a fifteenth of a second. We’re talking one-fourth of one minute here.
Get your cell phone on the brightest screen you can find. There is actually a flashlight application for an iPhone that is a bright white screen which is perfect but not necessary. The brightest screen you can find should do you nicely.
Now you’re going to paint the object. During the extremely long exposure, you’re going to wave your cell phone around the object carefully keeping it outside the edge of your frame. You don’t want the cell phone to actually be in the picture. Once again, experimentation is going to be your friend here. You could attempt to cover the entire object evenly with light in the 15 seconds allotted, or you could just wave the light from one side. I did an overall shot of my vase to show you the basic idea.
I certainly didn’t invent this technique. Car photographers have actually painted cars in dark studios with light and produced high-end lighting techniques with a single light source. You could actually light a building with a small flash if you popped it from dozens of different angles during one long exposure.
Look at the picture of the microphone. There are studio photographers in New York that charge lots of money and use lots of lighting equipment to get that exact effect and I did it with an iPhone. If nothing else, this would be a wonderful way to light something professionally to sell on eBay.
Notice the percentage of actual human being in the photograph above. Let’s say it’s 20%. Then notice the percentage of the photograph that’s the part of the human beings we care about the most— their faces. Let’s say it’s 5%—and that’s being generous. I think the problem started when the decision was made to include the feet in the picture.
I am certainly not saying that you should never photograph feet. There are some wonderful foot photographs out there. (In fact, my good friend and photographer, Rich Frishman, did a legendary series of self portraits that were nothing but his feet. He called them “Footagraphs”. Absolutely fantastic.)
What I am saying is that if you are shooting a group shot, there needs to be a darn good reason for including the feet. More often then not, including the feet in group shots does damage to the photograph.
I realize this is just another way of saying getting close to your subjects. But I want red warning lights going off in your brain and in your viewfinder if you see feet and shoes and we may as well include the lower halves of legs for that matter. If they don’t add anything, eliminate them. I have seen very few close-up photographs of four people and wondered what their shoes and socks looked like.
Remember, when you shoot your Christmas card photo you are doing your viewers a big favor when you show them what everyone looks like this year.
I’m basically a control freak when it comes to group shots and I try to arrange things as carefully as I can to insure success. It’s not always easy or possible to have it all go my way but I give it my best shot. Here’s something that may be helpful to you as we approach family greeting card season.
Most people don’t know what to do with their hands when they’re being photographed and it’s often a good idea to tell them what to do. I would say that just about every time I shoot a group shot I walk up to the subjects and get hands on—no pun intended. I fix collars, straighten jackets, reposition stray hairs and I will often take their hands and put them where I want them. Based on the assumption that family members love each other I try to make it look like they do in my pictures. I like to see visible hands around each other’s shoulders or around waists or holding hands; I think it really adds a lot to the feeling of the finished product. And it makes the subjects more comfortable by solving the “where should I put my hands?” problem.
But here’s something else I’ve noticed about that solution. I’ll put someone’s hand in a visible place on another’s shoulder and knock off ten frames and look at the shoulder and the hand isn’t there any more and I don’t even know when it moved. This happens more often than you would think—even with adults.
In the photos above I drew in some hands that I had positioned there and got moved in the course of the shoot. (I guess you now know why I’m a photographer and not a sketch artist.)
Here’s my theory why the hands disappear. It’s back to the original problem—they’re uncomfortable about what to do with their hands and they feel the need to move them. When I shoot a few frames they get the idea that I’ve nailed that pose and they re-position their hands. That’s just a theory, of course. It doesn’t matter why they do it, they just do.
So now you, as the photographer, need to keep an eye on those hands (like you don’t have enough to watch when you’re photographing a group, right?) and see to it that they stay there until you’ve got what you want. I find that when you shoot group shots you constantly need to be scanning and re-scanning the scene to make sure that everything you “fixed” doesn’t need to be fixed again—the collar, the hair, and the hands.
There are all kinds of group shots—families in front of houses, the directors in the board room, rock bands just about anywhere. There’s plenty of leeway for being creative when you shoot a group shot.
But for the holiday card family portrait you can’t go too far wrong by showing everyone what people look like this year and I think that means you get in as close as you can. And the closer their heads are together the closer you can get. The more space in the picture that’s actual faces and the less space that’s walls and furniture the more the more the viewer can appreciate the beautiful evolution of your family. Everyone who loves you wants to see it.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some thoughts I have about shooting family portraits. There are little things that you can do that make a great big difference and I think getting heads close together is one of the most important.
If you’re doing this in the house one of the best things you can do is find the right furniture to pose the individuals. Tall stools are often very handy. In the example above, I had the girls stand on stools putting their heads above their parent’s heads. At first that just doesn’t seem right but I decided that in the interest of impact if was going to be OK. I mean really, is anyone going to think that the girls have grown taller than mom and dad this year? It seems unlikely.
The three kids are triplets—the girl on the left is the love of my Teddy’s life. There’s a nagging feeling that triplets should all be together, but I didn’t do it so I could make a more pleasing composition—and get closer. That was my overriding goal and I think it worked. Not having the triplets together as one unit may even be a little refreshing.
This family actually has a family portrait hanging on their wall that looks just like my “don’t do this example” below. (Apologies to the photographer if you’re reading this. It was really a perfectly lovely photo—I’m just trying to make a point.) When you’re positioning people and you haven’t found the right furniture it’s way too easy to end up with a lot of dead space. There’s a lot of wall in that picture.
Getting people close together can sometimes feel unnatural for the subjects. One of my standard lines is to say this may feel a little funny but it’s going to look great. Trust me, I say. They usually do and I’m usually close to right. (Don’t get me wrong—not always.)
I haven’t seen too many family portraits where the subjects are too close together—I’m not even sure what that would look like.
If you’re looking for a holiday gift to make with your camera this is a great one. I’m putting it out there now because Thanksgiving is coming and you may see someone then that’s an ideal and meaningful subject for this. (I’ve found that you can knock off about half of your Christmas gift list with your camera at a Thanksgiving family gathering—think about it.)
The photos here speak for themselves. In this case, you need nine pictures that need to be visually diverse. Serious. Funny. She’s picking her nose in one. The back of her head. Diversity makes this work. It’s not that easy to come up with nine different photos.
Here are a few ways to get something different.
If your subject does ANYTHING goofy push the button. Don’t ask questions.
Direct the subject if you need to. Say things like “be totally serious” or “give me a great big laugh”. Unexpected things happen when you direct people; be prepared to push the button when they don’t follow directions. They will often do things that are better than what you had in mind but you have to push the button and go with the flow.
The profile shots help in the layout. Tell your subject to look at an object in the direction you want them to look. Look at that doorknob over there or look at the flowers is what I’m talking about.
As always, it’s better to do this kind of thing when you are the only two people in the room.
I’m not going to go into how you edit nine pictures into one picture—that’s another conversation. But the fun part here is how to layout the photographs. Where do the profiles go? Where does the finger in the nose picture go? (There may not be one in your version.) There’s a flow to a layout and a set of simple photographs is a great way to challenge yourself.
Also, frames and mattes with pre-cut holes for nine images are a standard item at all of the online frame suppliers. If you decide to go with a matte—life will be easier if you don’t—make sure you have the matte in hand before you attempt to produce a print that will align with the holes.