What’s with the long lens?

So when I shoot portraits, my favourite lens, if I can use it, is the 70-200.

Why “if I can use it”?

Because it is long. That means I need a large studio to stand back a lot. And not every studio is large. In all probability, your kitchen isn’t large, and I bet you do portraits there sometimes.

OK… but why would I want that long lens in the first place?

Because then I get very little distortion. Here’s a student, a few years ago on an Oakville Photo Walk, from far away, with the 70-200mm lens:

That’s what he looked like.

But now let’s get closer. And closer. So we zoom out. Closer still. Wide angle. Closer still. Now we have a very wide angle lens (16-35), and we are very close:

Can you see that’s a very different (and distorted) person?

Sometimes, in an environmental portrait, you may want to get close to the second picture—though never that close, distortion is out. But generally speaking, if it’s a headshot, you want accuracy, and the farther back you stand, the more accurate the representation of the person is.

There is a second advantage to being far away: you are not “in their face”. That means you are not perceived as threatening and something to fear. Which in turn means your subject will relax more. Basic psychology.

Practice: 50mm (on a full frame) is the minimum for half body shots; 85mm (ditto) is the minimum for headshots; longer is better for neutral, accurate portraits.

Lesson learned: If you go wide, stand back. Because of course it’s not the lens that does this magic: it’s how far away you stand. The lens just facilitates that.

 

KISS

Photos are good when they contain what’s needed, and no more. Often, that means they are simple.

This was outside my front door an hour ago:

Nice and simple. But I can make it simpler.

I could even remove some of those distracting things on the roof:

Since I do not think the stuff I removed was essential to the photo, the simpler ones are better for me. I say “for me”, because after all, it IS art, and you cannot argue over art. (Doesn’t stop people though.)

Now Google the most expensive photo ever sold. $4m. Look and tell me what you think.

 

How you think: an example

Often. it’s not the “what”, but “how”. How do you decide what settings to you in your cameras? What to shoot?

I shall use myself, and today’s shoot, as an example. I shot a house, for a real estate agent:

When shooting something like this, my camera is in manual model. So I need to make many decisions. And I need to be quick: cannot afford to hang around, for the home-owner’s sake, the realtor’s sake, and my own sake.

So before the shoot I decide :”outside, tilt-shift”. Arriving, I had my tilt-shift lens on the camera already. Using the sunny sixteen rule, before even starting I set my camera to 1/100 sec, ISO100, and started at f/11. I looked; that was a little dark, the meter told me, so I went to f/8. Perfect. Then came the fine tuning: I wanted a faster shutter for hand held, so I used 1/200 sec, which necessitated f/5.6. (shutter gave me one stop less light, which I fixed by aperture giving me one stop more light).

Then I focused manually, held the camera straight, and shifted the lens up. Click. Done. Time taken: Seconds.

Now inside. I already knew I would want the wide angle lens, so I put it on, the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Inside, I saw mainly simple white ceilings, so I decided simple flash bouncing with one flash, and combining that with ambient, would be fine. Then the sequence was:

  1. I set my camera to 400 ISO: that is my starting standard for bright indoors.
  2. I selected f/5.6: with a wide lens, that will give me sharpness from “near me” to “infinity”.
  3. Then I selected 1/50 second, which, I was sure, would give me visibility of inside light fixtures.
  4. I selected flash exposure compensation of +1 stop, and turned the flash upward behind me at roughly 45 degrees.

I got:

And that confirmed what I wanted: outside not too crazy bright; light fixture visible, room well lit. Done. Now for the rest of the shoot all I changed was the shutter speed:

  • I first tried 1/50 second.
  • Where “outside” was important, I went up to as much as 1/250 second. This gave a colder inside but better outside.
  • Where “inside” was important and outside could be a little blown out, I went down to as little as 1/20 second.

Once the basics were taken care of, now I started to think about what to shoot:

  • Diagonal into each room; straight-on in the kitchen.
  • I shot from slightly below eye-level (but not below cupboard level if that meant seeing the bottom of cupboards).
  • Of course I went wide, very wide… but I resisted going TOO wide: over-promising and under-delivering is not a very good strategy.
  • I ensured that all the lights were turned on in the rooms I shot.

And of course I avoided this error:

Can you see the error?

Yes, you need to be extremely cautious in a house with many mirrors.

I estimated an hour for this shoot. Time taken: Exactly 56 minutes. A good job, if I am allowed to say so myself, and it feels good to do a good job. This is a beautiful home, and I trust my photos (103 of them) will help secure a very quick sale for list price; perhaps even list price “plus”.

 

It’s not rocket science.

Photography is not rocket science., But it IS a skill that needs to be learned, and if you want to do it well, just like a rocket scientist, you need to dedicate time to learning.

Followers of this blog know that I have a particular style; and my style is what I would call the dramatic portrait. Darker, saturated colours. I.e. like this:

…rather than like this:

So. Which one is right? Both. Either. Neither. Whichever you like.

My personal answer is very clear: the first, for me. I don’t suppose I have to explain again: expose for the background, -2 stops as a target; THEN worry about flash. Read the flash book (buy it today at http://learning.photography) and take a course from me to learn how to do this like an expert.

But look at the girl. Isn’t that a great picture of a tween? Silly, unable to be serious… during a recent shoot,  two girls and a set of grandparents turned up; I offered to take their picture, and did. Why do people not have pictures of their children like this? Surely not to save a few dollars…?

The two friends together:

And the girls themselves? When they’re all grown up, wouldn’t they want better pictures of their onetime bff than the iphone selfies they have (and will inevitably lose!) hundreds of? Please, have a pro do some cool pictures of your children. or learn how to do it yourself. Buy the book, take a course, and never look back.

And now back to regular programming.

 

A Business Portrait

Today, I shot another business executive portrait. Or rather, a series of portraits. I needed both formal and informal.

What are the needs for an executive portrait? What does a photographer need to be able to do them well?

Equipment—so I have a full studio in the car. And at least two cameras, five speedlights, four light stands, softboxes, umbrellas, and so on. Fast lenses, too. Clasps, brackets, modifiers, “thingies”.

Knowledge—clearly, you need to know your stuff. Especially, know about light; light direction; flash; standard portraits; portrait “gotchas”; and balancing flash with ambient.

Composition—this is the most important need: quickly spotting the opportunities in an office environment, which was not designed for artistic portraiture. If you can learn this, you can do successful business portraits. You need to be able to see context: an environmental portrait is also known as a “contextual” portrait. The “background” needs to be meaningful. This is what separates the men from the boys, i.e. where you use your experience.

Detail—you need to be able to see detail, especially “stuff to remove”. You do not want things coming out of your subject’s head, you need to avoid including garbage cans, and so on. Keep your eyes open!

People skills—you need to see what the person you are shooting is all about, what makes him/her tick. You need to establish a relationship quickly. Be reassuring and be confident: any hesitation will be seen as a sign of weakness. Exude the sense that you know your business.

Post—you need to know what you can do in post-production; and you need to be good, and quick.

So let’s take a look at today. The challenges were the usual: no space, no obvious places to shoot. No space for formal, and no obvious places for informal. The office was small, and there was no time for a long walk-around. Normally I would like an hour by myself to find good spots; but this time, the walk-around had to be done with the client showing us.

Challenges. But that’s why I am a photographer.

Of course we did “formal” using a door as the backdrop, a speedlighter/umbrella as key, ambient light as fill:

Good. Well lit, nice catchlights in the right place.

Now, the environmental portraits.

The first thing I noticed was a nice hallway with converging lines. I put my assistant, intern Daniel, in it, for a test shot:

Yup. That works. That is not a finished product, but when I see that, I know what I can do. In the end portrait, I de-saturate the yellow, to get this:

But the other side appeals more, because of the visual interest and because of the “work” it implies: this is a manufacturing facility, after all. See that other side here:

(1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400, bounced-behind speedlight)

That I am happy with.

Next, more converging lines: the test kitchen. I did the same there:

(1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400, “bounced-behind-me” speedlight plus ambient)

Or vertical:


And finally, a more traditional office shot.

There, the challenge was to expose the green background properly. Not much of a challenge: all you need to do is pay attention. Expose for that background, then add flash. 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.

As you see, a simple “executive headshot” shoot can actually be fairly complicated and can need a whole range of skills. On the plus side, this kind of shoot is fun, and can allow you to get really creative.

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Want to learn this stuff? Yes! Take some private training from me, and read my books, from http://learning.photography.