Sometimes I like to post photos and let people enjoy them as-is. Other times, I like to take them apart a little. This self-criticism is good for me- it helps me make decisions around how I take photos in the future and is a necessary part of growing in a skill. I hope it helps others out there who are experimenting with photography as well. I’m entirely self-taught, so if I get things epically wrong, please forgive me. I welcome your own thoughts & insights as well- all that stuff helps me as a photographer too.
This is Seven. She’s daughter of my best mate growing up, Andy, who now lives in Arizona. As you can see, Seven has a thing for cats. Here she is on a Saturday [Caturday?] morning, all dressed up and complete with tail, ears and shoes to match.
Taking a portrait requires balancing a bunch of different facets. Ultimately, a good portrait needs to portray something of the humanity of the subject (assuming you’re shooting a human). That’s the ‘intangible’ aspect of the photo. On top of that, of course, there’s the technical aspects- lighting, focus, depth of field, and so forth. Somewhere in there, you want the photo to tell a story.
For me, that’s the growing enjoyment I find in taking portraits- finding that balance between art and science, between the spiritual and the technical. This isn’t the greatest portrait ever taken- but it is a fun one, and the technical aspects have come together nicely as well. Lighting-wise, the most critical aspect is the face. If you get the face lit right, pretty much any other blemish, flaw or downright catastrophe of light in the photo can be forgiven. Here, the image has been balanced for Seven’s face. It’s a sunny day, so having her in the shade where the light wouldn’t blow out her skin or cast her features into deep shadow was a must. I’ve used a shallow depth of field to isolate her from the busy background. This can be a matter of choice and context. Sometimes the background adds to a photo’s story, and other times it detracts. Here, I like that she’s sharp and in focus, while the backdrop falls away.
For the intangible, the photo has a sense of fun which Seven’s own happy spirit brings to the frame. She’s a little bit cheeky, exudes confidence but just the right amount of shyness as well. She’s proud as punch of her outfit which, as it happens, is also eyecatching and breaks her out from the background even without the shallow depth of field. She has a happy smile on her face- all in all, everything you want from a quick snap.
If I were to look for ways to improve this photo, the major one would be her eyes, which don’t stand out or pop in this image. It’s said over and over- because it’s the basic tenet of any portraiture- that it’s all about the eyes. She’s looking at the camera here, and her eyes are in focus, and she’s got an expression that supports the story in the photograph- but for it to pop a little more, her eyes would need to be a bigger feature of this shot.
Enough analysis on that one.
This is Four. She’s Seven’s little sister. She also loves cats, but she doesn’t yet have a cat outfit of her own. So, when Seven puts on her cat outfit, Four constructs one for herself. She sticks little triangles of paper on a headband for ears, and transforms her hands into paws with the aid of a couple of colourful (and, essentially, non-matching) socks. The effect? Epic cuteness.
This is Magic, our seven-year-old, on vacation in country Victoria. She loves a good swing, and she loves her hair, too. It’s thick and long and blonde, and she loved having it braided in Thailand, and she loves people commenting that it reminds them of Rapunzel from the cartoon ‘Tangled’.
I enjoy taking portraits with shallow depth of field- no secrets there. For the most part it serves me well. On this particular shoot, the challenge was getting the focus just right- shooting at f/2.8 is very unforgiving, as a millimeter or two closer to or further from the lens will cause the subject to be out of focus again.
In this shot I like the texture detail in Magic’s hair, and that her face says she’s clearly abandoned to the fun of the swing. I like that the angle is a little quirky, and that while the only elements that are sharp are Magic’s face and hair, there’s enough of the background to tell you what’s going on. This was shot on wide angle, not normally the best way forward for portraits, as it distorts shapes, particularly near the edges of the lens. However here, that distortion equally adds to a sense of movement across the frame, and I like how it feels as a result.
This portrait of M & J is more of a posed affair- something I try and avoid where possible, as I find greater pleasure in the candid and natural, and I find it easier to catch someone in their true comfort zone. It often takes several ‘warm-up’ shots to get people to relax a little and you can get a more authentic image, and in this case this photo was the last of several that I snapped. Here I’ve gone for a more environmental image- in this case catching them in the surrounds of the stream-bed we’d just hiked down to. The light under the trees was slightly dim and diffuse, the latter a real asset when taking portraits. Your biggest enemy from a natural light perspective is strong overhead sun when shooting people.
I’ve used the 85mm lens on this one. You can work two ways with environmental portraits- get nice and close with a wide-angle (but run the risk of distorting your subjects), or use a telephoto lens, but back away enough to still capture the surrounds. This flattens the image a little and keeps the subjects a little more true-to-eye. It also gives you more control over depth-of-field. DOF gets less and less pronounced the wider the angle of the lens you’re shooting with, and to compensate you need to get closer and closer to your subject- adding distortion. Backing away like this, you increase the in-focus portion of the image (important if you’ve got people stacked one behind the other as in this shot) but still employ enough blurring to the background to break them out of it a little. However the background here isn’t so blurred that it’s just green fuzz- you can still see trees, ferns, rocks and the stream sharply enough to know exactly where they are.
A bit of critique on this one: M’s face is in some shadow and her eyes considerably lost in it. This is where a little hit of fill-flash would really work wonders- or, if it’s more up your street (as it would be mine) a reflector.
This is Magic’s cousin. Here, he’s scrambled up into a nook behind a waterfall where vibrant green moss is growing. I like the shot. Cousin M is an energetic, boisterous and adventurous kid, and this shot captures some of that, with his attitude-pose, ballcap and the outdoor setting. On the other hand, he’s got a slightly serene look on his face, a moment of calm and even shyness that isn’t usually present. I like the unusual pose- it was just how he ended up perching naturally- and the way the dim background is coloured so differently from him means that even without a shallow depth of field, he stands out nicely from it. The light coming in from the mouth of the overhang illuminates his face naturally, and gives you good optics on his eyes.
This is Magic again, celebrating two gummy lollies at a party. I like the look of celebration captured on her face in the moment, and that it, to the exclusion of all else, is in sharp focus. I also like the way her cardigan creeps into sharp textured focus, and back out again.
This is Ames. I like this photo. She’ll hate me for posting it, which also adds to its appeal. But I like the colour, the focus, and the sense of life about it. It makes me smile. And I guess that’s all that you really want from a photo, once the shutter falls.