Photo Friday: From Snapshot to Portrait in 4 Easy Steps
I have been reluctant to share photo tips here, because I feel like there are a million sites out there where you can get this information. Do I really have anything new to offer? I don’t know. But I’ll try. You see, I’m very grateful to people who take the time to post things on the web so I can learn from them – I look up how to do things online all the time. So, if I’m able to help one person, I will feel like I’ve succeeded. I haven’t decided if photo tips will be a weekly post or just periodically; we’ll see.
So, here’s one of my favorite tips – how to make a snapshot look more like a portrait. There are times when you want to set everything up just right for a photo – the perfect background, the perfect lighting, the perfect outfit. Other times you just want to take a picture. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it look better, and just being aware of a few simple things will take your photos to the next level.
1) Pay attention to the lighting
This means choosing natural light over flash whenever possible. Try placing your subject in open shade and have them face the sun (open shade is in the shadow of a building, inside the house near a window, in the garage with the garage door up, under a tree – just be careful that you don’t have dappled light from the leaves shining on your subject). With your subject facing the sun you can get lovely catchlights in their eyes. Catchlights are simply the reflection of your lightsource, and it gives life and sparkle to your subject. (See those sparkly lights in her eyes? Those are catchlights.)
2) Choose your background wisely
Sometimes just turning your subject 45 degrees gives you a much cleaner background. This draws the focus of the photograph to your subject. If you don’t have a clean background, blur your background. “How do I blur the background?” you ask. This is probably the most common question I get asked. There are a few simple answers to this question, and one that takes some working knowledge of your camera. So I’ll give you the simple answers now, and I’ll post a tutorial on this in more depth in the future. For now, here are the quick answers: place your subject as far in front of the background as you can, place the camera closer to the subject, use a longer lens (if you have a zoom lens, this is the time to zoom it out), and use a smaller aperture (this is the f number – the smaller your number is, the more blurry the background will be. I’ll tell you more about it another time – it’s a little complicated).
3) Crop it later
Sometimes you just need to capture the moment, and that’s okay; but as you’re shooting, think about how you’ll crop it later. This can get rid of some of the unwanted elements.
4) Black and White can be your best friend
If you really want to take out distracting elements in your photo, turning it to black and white will do just that. If you have software that gives you the ability to do adjust the midtones, you will usually want to bring those up a notch or two. Most websites where you can turn a photo black and white (Costco or Shutterfly types) won’t let you get this detailed, but if you’re using more advanced software, take a minute and bring up your midtones or add more contrast to your photo; otherwise the b&w can tend to look “muddy”.
5) 2 Minutes in Photoshop can make all the difference
I know I said there were only four steps; and this is purely optional, but I wanted to tell you about it since I did it for this photo. In this photo I spent less no more than 90 seconds in Photoshop to reduce distractions in the background. I used the clone stamp tool, but you could also burn or dodge the background (depending on whether your background is mainly black or mainly white).
Okay, let’s take a look at my photo and see how I improved it with these tips:
A close up of her eye shows the reflection of the light source, which makes the catchlights.
As you can tell, my background for this photo was less than ideal. But this is where my light was, and I thought this would make a great tutorial (plus I’m lazy and I didn’t feel like cleaning up), so I just blurred the background. This is a shot I took with the background in focus and the baby blurred so that you could see what it looked like. Yikes!
So, here’s my photo.
Here it is cropped. Now that I’m looking at it again, I think I might actually prefer it cropped even tighter since her head looks like it’s a funny shape due to her evolving hair pattern (she kind of has Donald Trump hair in this photo), but that’s okay…it’s a much better composition than it was before.
And finally, here it is after cloning out the distractions in the background. It took me less than five minutes to fix it up, and now it looks like something you might actually consider hanging on your wall.
I hope this helps! This week try to pay attention to these little details as you photograph whatever it is you like to photograph!