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Simple Portrait Set-Up for the Momtograher

>> Monday, August 29, 2011

I am more than a little photography obsessed.  I borrowed my father-in-law's SLR camera when my youngest son was born, 3 1/2 years ago, and have never looked back. I ended up getting one for myself and then upgrading about a year later.  I am by no means an expert, but I am better now than I was then.  So I thought I'd share some tips on this blog for taking portraits of your kids.  It will be my attempt to focus on things that can be done with any camera, although if you have a point and shoot it is worth reading your manual to see what settings you can change.  And if you have an SLR, also read your manual and get off the automatic settings.  Automatic is great sometimes for quick snapshots, but your image quality will improve dramatically if you choose your settings and meter.

Here's an example of a simple portrait set-up for your home.  Great photos are always made by the light, so you have to find the spots that have great light.  And once you find them, you have to really look at your subject and see where the shadows are.

In our little rental apartment, we have the typical tungsten lighting everywhere.  Not good for pictures.  But we also have 2 large sliding glass doors (complete with lovely vertical blinds..).  For a close-up of my son, I placed him sitting 90 degrees to the sliding glass doors and opened the blinds a little.  It was morning and there were no shadows coming off the blinds on his face.  You could do the same with the blinds opened completely, and then just play with the distance between your subject and the doors.  And you may also need to move your subject forwards or backwards (parallel to the door).  Next, I had my son hold a big white reflector on his lap to bounce light back into his eyes.  You can see that on my photo, the right side of his face (our left looking at the photo) is darker then the left and has some shadowing.  I like that look because it adds dimension.  If you wanted a flatter look with less shadow, you'd just move your reflector so that it is more on the shadowed side and tilted up, rather than being flat on the subject's lap.  On the subject of reflectors, most people don't have one.  A big piece of white foamboard works great.  And finally, you want the focus to be on the face so you need a solid colored, light wall behind your subject. 

Here is my setup:

Here's the shot I got, straight out of the camera:

And here's my final product.  I did use photoshop and lightroom to edit this, although my editing was pretty simple and could be done in any program.  My steps were:  cropping, brightening, cloning out the baseboard and carpet in the background, sharpening his eyes a little, and converting to black and white. My finished product is very bright -- that's my personal preference.  Pictures always print darker than they look on the computer screen.  I do look at my color numbers in photoshop to make sure that although my photos are bright, the white/light areas aren't "blown out", meaning that the detail is not lost.

Try out the set-up on a doll or stuffed animal with shiny eyes so that you can see how moving your reflector affects the subject.  If you don't have glass doors, just open your front door or put your subject on a chair in front of a large window.

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