Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

What does your profile photo say about you?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

My favourite part of LinkedIn is the ‘People You May Know’ page: a gallery of mug shots of everyone and anyone who has a connection to someone you’re already connected to.

A picture tells a thousand words.  So what do you see when you look at all these faces?

Who looks professional?  Who’s presenting themselves in a way consistent with the core values of their business.

Who do you trust?

Ultimately engaging with potential clients on-line is all about creating trust.  Whether we like it or not, people form judgements about you when they look at your profile picture.  It’s a skill we learn in early life and an important part of human relationships: ‘sussing someone out’; ‘reading a face’.

A good profile image can do that for you.  It’s more than ‘just a headshot’, it’s your opportunity to make a good first impression – and you never get a second chance.

So next time you’re perusing the ‘People You May Know’, look at your own profile image and ask yourself if it’s serving you as well as it should.

I shoot professional profile images on location and in the Studio.  We can discuss whether a formal or informal portrait would work best for your business and we’ll shoot a range of images so you can choose the best expression and presentation to camera.

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Special Selfie

Friday, October 7th, 2016

A few strands came together yesterday:

After ripping my oldest white paper background in half on-site on Wednesday, I needed to check out a couple of studio paper backgrounds that I’d been given by another photographer.

So I hoisted the stand and unrolled them to see what they were like.

First off, after you got through the inevitable dirty bit at the bottom, the white one was actually in better shape than my old one (and much more there).  Result.

Then there was a black one.  Never used black.  It’s a little bent but most of it is good.

I wanted to see how the black would look.  There’s no one around to model it.  We’ll do a self portrait then.

Cue the second thread: I’ve been thinking about a self-portrait for a while.  Wondering how I’d like to photograph myself.  It is a very challenging task for a number of reasons:

  1. No one really likes pictures of themselves.  No one normal anyway
  2. I do this a lot for other people.  I know too much.
  3. I know lots of ways to take a portrait and have considered the whys and wherefores of each option.
  4. I know how small things change the way we read a face in a still image.  I know the work I put in to get that right in other people.
  5. I think way too much about this kind of thing.
  6. With all of the above, I expect to be judged by my own self-portrait (maybe I’m actually judging myself)

So all in all, it’s just not happening.

I’ve had a few ideas but not really progressed them.

Moreover I’ve enjoyed looking (and secretly mocking) other photographers’ attempts to do their own job on themselves.  Mysteriously, the majority seem to involve hiding behind a camera: “I’m a photographer, I must have a camera in my image”.  It seems to be some kind of rule.  And some photographers love rules.

Buy Why?  Does the camera define you?  Why do you hide?  When you look at the profile images on LinkedIn, why so only the photographers include their tools?  You don’t see dentists holding drills.  It’s rare even to see musicians holding instruments – and those that do don’t hide behind them.  So what’s the story?  Is it a secret code?  Some even hold them like they are some kind of weapon!

To me it demonstrates a woeful lack of comprehension of exactly what it is a profile image does.  From the people who should know the most – but maybe it’s just me that thinks about this stuff.  Maybe the other guys just take the photo.

But the arrival of the black background and 15 minutes spare finally started me off.

Perhaps it’s the complete randomness that got me started:  I never shoot on black; I hardly ever use studio light.  I’d imagined my self-portrait to be completely typical of my best work (soft natural light, shallow focus, blurred contextual background, engaged expression) and this was the exact opposite.

Of course the wasn’t much time and the wireless remote release wouldn’t work (again) so it’s just a very simple start with a plan for future iterations (which is very me): black background, one light, prime lens, self timer.   I only took a couple and some were out of focus (because of the self-timer thing).

And I need a hair cut.

But it’s not bad – considering the subject matter.

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Analogue Love/Hate

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

There’s been a resurgence of Arty/Retro/Hipster Love of film recently.  Starting I guess with the Lomo guys and I most recently found a more and more of this kind of stuff around the place.  I got the tour of Sample Studios recently and they even have a dark room (remember those?).

Now, I still own far more film cameras then I’m ever likely to use and every now and then hanker to pick them up, fire the shutter and even tempted to fire off some of my few remaining film rolls.

If only I had the time.

But recently the reality of my film days was brought back to me with a bump.

I recently started leafing through my archive of neagtives looking for a nostagic picture of Mrs Lamb in order to make her Birthday card.  Lots of really lovely old stuff in there and I took more time than I had available to look through those photos.

Amongst them I found a couple of images from my Student Days that I’d had half a mind to scan up so having dusted off the film scanner I ran them through.

Lovely shots (OK I might do more with the location now) but holy cow just how much crap is on that negative!!!

We’re talking, scratches, damaged emulation, dust, drying marks – plus substaintial grain issues.  All that nostaglia about the details of the baths: the signage, the tiling, the scoreboards is now masked with crap.   Now this was probably a home-cooked negative so much of the responsibility is mine.  But I had no better luck with most labs.

Going digital was the first time I got full control over my end-to-end workflow.  Aside from the ability to chimp, the flexibility and speed of digital.  I finally got the quality of finish I was looking for.

Here’s the final, cleaned up image (there’s probably more that could be done with this).   For anyone interested in the original scan it’s available here.

The Loughborough Colleges 25yd Pool, circa 1991

The Loughborough Colleges 25yd Pool, circa 1991

Incentives (Draft 2)

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

I knew this would be a difficult subject to address.  Draft 1 kinda turned into a rant so it’s consigned to the WordPress ‘permanent draft’ folder.

So let’s start again.

My objective for all my family photo sessions is that everyone enjoys it.  It’s simple really: if we can make sure that the whole experience is a very positive one then the photos will reflect that.  As much as possible is done to make that happen – choosing a good location, timing etc – and from the moment we meet it should be obvious that this isn’t something that anyone needs to get stressed about: we’re just going to go out into the Park and take some photos.

I find that kids react to their environment.  If everyone is cool and easy-going they’ll relax and be themselves.  They’ll start playing and I’ll be able to watch them, encourage them, they’ll start to trust me and take some really lovely pictures of them.

It’s easy to go in to a photo session with expectations of how it’ll be.  In reality you might not have done this before. I think some parents worry that they might not get the images they expect.  Remember that all my work is shot with ‘normal’ people.  The pics on the web site are kids just like yours.

I’ve done this before.  You’re in good hands. I understand that kids need some time to get used to me, the camera and having their photos taken.  They need time to feel comfortable, reassurance that they’re not going to get into trouble for doing or not doing something so they can relax and play.

So don’t panic.  Relax and enjoy your kids and let me handle the photos. Don’t ask the kids to ‘smile’ or ‘be good’ because those terms mean nothing in the context of the photo session.

It’s not uncommon before or during a session for some parents to get so worried that their kids won’t ‘smile’ or ‘be good’ that they offer a reward for doing just that.  I have found that overall that’s not helpful – mostly because it’s too easy to get wrong.  Kids can become so focussed on the reward that it upsets the session.

Equally they can be so unmoved by the reward that they are impervious to it’s charms and parents are tempted to escalate the incentive (or even turn to punishments).  In this case we’re now fighting and the chance of pictures of a relaxed kid smiling are reduced.

I’ll try to illustrate:

Dad: Now you be good for the man
Kid: ????
Dad: Smile now
Kid pulls weird grin
Dad: Not that smile, your real smile
Kids weird grin just gets weirder
Dad: If you give me a big, real smile I’ll give you a treat
Kid just tries harder at the really big weird grin
Dad: No, that’s not it
Kid is now upset because they failed and won’t get the treat
Dad: Just smile for Daddy
A cycle of weird grins, Dad gets frusrated, Kids gets sadder cos Dad’s not happy. Eventually Dad notices Kid is sad and gives the treat to make it better.  Kid thinks he did good and it’s all over.  Until:

Dad: so where’s my smile?
Round we go again – Kid not sure what he did last time for the treat so goes through grinning-crying routine again.

But we still don’t have a photo.

Now these are hypothetical.  In reality, most Dads are Messers at heart (for their own kids at least) and when they realise they you’re giving them the best excuse ever to just kick back and enjoy their family we get what we came for.

So, in summary:

  1. Relax
  2. Treat the session as just a normal thing to do
  3. Don’t offer incentives or negative repercussions for behaviour
  4. You can reward once we’re done but don’t mention it during the session
  5. If your kids aren’t smiling then say or do something that will make them smile or laugh (just make sure I’m ready to photograph the reaction)
  6. Follow my lead for helping me get a good reaction from them

Preparing for your Family Photo Session

Monday, October 5th, 2015

So we’ve booked the session, decided where to go and now you’re wondering what you need to do before we meet for the photo session.

I’ll contact you shortly before the session to confirm the booking.  I’d normally leave that until a day or so before the actual session so we can get a more reliable look at the weather forecast in case there’s anything nasty definitely headed our way.  All being well you’ll get a text or a call from me to confirm time and place (but if at anytime you want to check, just give me a buzz).

Similarly if someone’s sick or something else comes up just call me and we can re-schedule the session.  I want to get the best images and that’s not going to happen if someone – especially a young child – is suffering with something.

Clothing

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Lots of girls want to choose their own clothes – it’s part of who they are

The most common question I get asked about is clothing.  There’s no absolute rules here but there are a few things to bare in mind:

  • Everyone needs to be comfortable and free to play.  So warm but not too snugged up, layers they can take off if they’re hot and something handy to put on if it gets cold.
  • Cute hats are generally good – especially if they’re used to them – but try to avoid anything that will hide their faces in the pictures: hats with a brim, scalves, body warmers with high necks etc.
  • Nothing too precious.  They need to be able to play freely without you or them worrying about getting a bit dirty.
  • While the ‘white shirt / t-shirt’ image is popular in the US, it can be quite hard on most Irish kids’ complexions – especially at this time of year.  It’s also going to be the first thing to show dirt (and it may be too cool in Autumn as well).
  • In general remember that we’re here to get pictures of you all and your faces are what we’re most interested in.  So avoid anything that’s going to compete with your expressions visually: heavily branded clothes, tops with characters on them (especially faces), very distracting patterns etc.
  • Brightly coloured clothing can work well in the forest but make sure it’s not too much (or clashing).  Again, the problem comes when the colours take away from the kids expressions.

 

Body warmer are handy but watch out for high necks that will hide their chins

Body warmers are handy but watch out for high necks that will hide their chins

For most people the session is about the whole family but there are parents who don’t want to come into the photos.  That’s a bit of shame but it’s OK.  Even so you might be asked to support your children getting up onto a tree or something or just holding their hand at some point so even if you don’t want to do a full family photo, make sure that you’re wearing something you don’t mind being photographed in (even if it’s your back or your arm).

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Mom and Dad need to get in on the act too!

Incentives

This is generally not something you think about before the session but getting this wrong in the middle of the day can make things harder than perhaps they need to be.  It’s often occurred to me that I should have talked to parents about incentives before the session because they have an significant impact on childrens’ behaviour (for good or for bad).

There’s actually quite a lot of psycology in taking pictures.  Offering a reward for ‘good behaviour’ with small kids can be hard to get right (and easy to get wrong).  It tends to work once or twice for a short period and you never quite plan for what happens next.

In fact, this is a big subject and I’m going to need a separate post but suffice it to say here that you should think more about positive re-enforcements (“how nice this is going to be”) and distractions (“what’s over there?”) than offering a reward for ‘being good’.  I’ll be doing my best to make the whole session fun and hopefully they’ll be happy and playful without the promise of a reward.

Food

You know your own kids.  If they don’t eat between meals, they’ll be fine.  If they snack then yes, bring food. Something small, clean, easy / quick to eat and not too sugary.  Bite-sized snacks that aren’t rewards are ideal.

Where to do your family session

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

In the first part of this series of posts, I wrote about booking your session.  But where would you go?

Well, the simple answer is ‘anywhere’.

I’ve done sessions in many locations across the city and county and there’s never been a location that didn’t work out well.

There are however a few ingredients that make things easier for everyone.  The objective is to get a really good range of pictures of everyone having fun.  Choosing the right location gives us the a better chance of getting as many pictures as possible.

So here’s my guide to choosing a location:RLC_2445-1000px

Somewhere personal.  Do you have somewhere that your family visit regularly, somewhere you’ll look back on and identify strongly with this time in your lives?  These places are definitely the place to start.  Using a location which is part of your family history to create memories is very precious.

Feeling free.  RLD_7503Taking the photo session outdoors serves a number of purposes – it takes the pressure out of a studio session and everyone finds it easier to forget they’re being photographed.  Not many people have their private copse but many of the local parks and forests are quiet enough for us all to feel inhibited.

Backgrounds.  But the location will also for a background to RLJ_0400your photos – even though it may be deliberately out of focus in many of the pictures.  One of the reasons Autumn forest pictures work so well is that the trees are alive with colour and can be used to create stunning backgrounds.   Don’t assume your favourite location is deciduous though – many local forests are evergreen.  That still works but may not be what you expect.

Levels.  If you were to ask me what the hardest place to photograph is I’d say ‘in the middle of a fRLE_3094ield’.  It’s much easier to work with a range of terrain, benches, logs, trees, bridges, walls, summer houses etc to provide options for people to sit, stand and lean on.  It gives them something more natural to do (posing standing still is very unnatural) and it provides the opportunity for Small People to get more height and be closer to their parents (and Big People to hide a bit if they want).  The more things to climb and sit on the better.

Something to do. “Stand there now and look relaxed and happy”.  No better way to make somone tense and uncertain looking.  It’s all about providing a distraction and at it’s simplest it’s just walking, exploring, climbing trees or choosing colourful leaves.  But if you can think of other things that the kids love to do (without turning it into a competition) then we can work it in.  Most of the time they find something to do themselves and we photograph that.  Playgrounds sometimes work but they can be busy (and we don’t want other families coming in) and brightly coloured stuff can be distracting in the final pics.RLJ_6615

Cover.  The obvious concern about an Autumn session is the rain, but full sun is a problem too.  Either way it’s handy to have a bit of cover available to give options for shade as well as to keep out of cold winds.

Distances.  You’re probably going to have to drive to the location so just keep it to a managable journey.  If you’re all tired and cranky after the journey then it’s going to take longer to distract everyone out of it and we’ll get less opportunities for what we’re looking for.  Also consider how far we need to walk from the car park to the nicest spot and how old the kids are (bring the buggy if you need to but we don’t want anyone dozing off before we get some pictures).

In the next post, I’ll look at a few good locations around Cork that you might consider.

Shooting Nana: Conclusion

Monday, March 24th, 2014

So where are we after all these pictures of Nana?

Well we’ve some lovely images here and personally it was well worth getting these taken.  She’s someone who I’ve found difficult to capture in an image and now I feel I have something that starts to do her justice.

However this was also a series of experiments in photography as well as an excuse to photograph Nana.

I’m definitely liking the medium format thing:

  • I really like shooting with the longer focal length lens (for the same distance to subject) and the look and feel it creates in a portrait.
  • I kinda like the ultra-slow consideration that’s forced by 12 shots.  It’s very different and for the right subject works very well.  I need to not rush through them and forget the tendancy for continuous shooting.  If I talk more and shoot less without putting pressure to click every few minutes I might get more variation from my 12 and more keepers.
  • I really like the interaction not being stuck behind the finder.
  • I don’t however love it so much I’m going to drop €20k on Medium Format digital.  If I had the client base for more of this I might consider it.

My 35mm digital working is much more dynamic.  It allows much more freedom to shoot and it suits the way I work with kids much more.  It has less advantages for more static subjects like this but:

  • Working on the tripod with the release got better this time and is something that I will definitely bring into more of my commercial portrait and profile sessions.  In fact I’ve already shot one almost entirely from the tripod.

35mm Film presents very little extra to add to the way I work at this stage.  It’s has only two things going for it and these aren’t going to be enough to offset the cost and advantage of Full Frame digital:

  • It ‘slightly’ slows you down and makes you think a bit more before shooting duplicate images.  But you could force yourself to work this way equally with digital.
  • That film looks is really nice – and it hides lots of technical issues that become distracting in high-definition digital.  But the hassle and expense of processing 35mm black and white film and the ability to do this digitally (albeit not as easy or consistently) doesn’t make this worth while apart from the sheer fun of it.
  • I have to give up part of the workflow: I am at the mercy of the lab unless I take the time to process my own film.  The amount of crap and scratches on the negs of all the films was quite astonishing.  In fairness this is probably a function of the amount of film being processed but this was also a feature in my previous use of film.  It was less of an issue with the 120 as the negs are that much larger but it killed off a few images on 35mm completely.

So it’s easy to see why 35mm film is pretty much a craft market these days.  It’s lovely to work in but lacks a strong case for sticking with it.

The assumption here though is that you can afford to kit yourself out with 35mm Full Frame DSLR kit.  If you’re shooting a crop sensor or even a compact with a smaller sensor and you want that ’50mmf1.4′ look then in fact a film SLR and a 50mm lens may be your most cost effective way of starting out.  It might be enough to help you understand if this is going to be useful before forking out and extra few grand on a Full-Frame DSLR.

I’ve learned something about shooting portraits.  I have some new techniques that are now good enough to use commercially (and can still improve).

I’m not sure I’ll be using 120 film in my commercial work but I will be ordering some more film for a few more personal shoots.

The fun of spending time with Nana, shooting with all those cameras and the feedback on the images was definitely worthwhile.

Shooting Nana Part 4: An Old Friend

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Finally I got my last roll of 35mm Ilford HP5 Black and White film back and scanned it in.  It had to be hand processed by someone in Kinsale (I still have the wherewithall to do it myself at home but buying a batch of chemicals for one film wouldn’t have been worth it).

I called this post ‘an old friend’ but in fact there are two here:

  • I was always a fan of HP5 in the old days.  I had a collection of cheap, slow consumer zoom lenses so 400 ASA film was handy.  I also shot a lot of college sports in dark gym-halls (esp Basketball) so I used to push it up to 3200 ASA on occassion and it coped admirably – even sitting under the net with a 28f2.8 lens you needed 3200 ASA to get a decent shutter speed.
  • I loaded it into the Nikon F4e.  Still one of my favourite Nikons just for the pleasure of handling it: the weight, the simplicity of the UI, the sound of that shutter and film advance.  This was the camera that really got me taking pictures again after a long absence.  I bought it from the US on eBay and then set out equipping it with all its bits and pieces (batter grips / screens / lovely old lenses)

Enough of the gooey-eyed retro-tech love.  How did they get on?

Well, er, the pictures are different.  Not really worse or better but just different. I suppose I’m mainly comparing it it the 35mm Full Frame Digital of the D700: same format, same lenses.

  • Slightly Shotgun. So rarely in the old days would I have spent a whole film on one subject so there is some duplication and waste here (oh, the sound of that motor drive).  But no-where near as much as the digital equivalent.  So the restriction of 24 exposures (as it happens) has made the process slower and more delibrate but not as much as the ‘blad did.  But it’s also not as spontaneous as the digital.  There are some keepers but not as many as the digital version.  The important distinction here for me is the absolute number of keepers at the end.  So although the percentage is lower with digital it results in more keepers and better chance of getting something genuinely spontaneous in the mix.
  • Grain – bags of it. No doubt about it, film is different.  The grain of the higher speed film is obvious although in this case not undesirable or inappropriate.  The grain here is nice I think.  It appears the old F4e was pretty sweet in terms of focus – in reality I suspect that the grain is hiding focus inacuracies which again isn’t a bad thing.  While shallow depth of field is nice, it only serves to contentrate the viewer on the subject.  Obvious softness in focus in key areas is distracting.  All that pixel-peeping-crtical-focus stuff isn’t really helpful for portrait work (and I’m only shooting at 12MP).
  • It Feels Right.  The digital guys spend a lot of effort trying to get nice contrasty black and white with smooth tones from an image captured digitally in colour.  I sometimes find it hard to get there with certain images and there are lots of magazine articles, plug-ins and on-line debates about the best way to do it.  You can’t beat the original.  Lovely contrasty tone with excellent dynamic range straight out of the little box / can.
  • Endless Crap.  This whole film experiment has reminded me of one thing though that I’ve had to do with out for so long: all that crap on your negatives.  OK so film processing might not be what it was but my memory of dealing with most labs was a significant amount of damage coming back on my negs on a significant number of occassions.  Maybe I just didn’t every find a lab good enough.  Going digital was the first time I truely controlled the whole workflow from start to end – from capture to print – and finally it started to produce results I was 100% happy with.  For someone as fussy as me this is a biggie.

Overall though I like these and although time-consuming and a little pricy it’s been a pleasure so shoot some black and white film again.  The analogue process is very tactile even without the actual printing of black and white prints.  What comes out has it’s own beauty but I’m not convinced it’ll ever come back into my professional workflow.  I want to shoot some more though – and to find the right subject to suit the medium.

I’d love to do black and white printing again (I’d love to have the time even more!)

What has this whole process taught me?  That’s another post…

Shooting Nana Part 3: Old School

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I have the 120 film back from the lab now.

A big part of this experiment was to spend more time with the Hasselblad 500c and it lovely 150f4 lens.

There is a tendancy to look fondly back at the days of Medium Format.  For many people it was purely about the quality of the images produced.  The combination of a much larger image area and expensive lenses that effectively resolved much more detail in your image.

In the digital era, Medium Format seemed to become more synonomous with the highest resolution cameras – to the extent that the latest generation of 35mm DSLRs claimed to be ‘Medium Format’ because they offered resolutions only formerly available with a larger image area.

A lot of that is nonsense.  We’re back to the uber-tech and ignoring some old school photography stuff.

Shooting Medium Format changes the way your images look for a number of different reasons:

  • In order to fill the larger image area, you need a longer focal length.  There’s definitely a very different feel to these from being shot on a 150mm compared to an 85mm (35mm Full Frame) or a 50mm (APS-C DSLR) <skip long explanation>  In general people look better with longer lenses.
  • The depth of field is different here too.  I’ve traded off the medium telephoto wide aperature look of the 85f1.4 against the longer focal length f4 of the Hasselblad.  It’s produced good isolation in the backdrop but much more detail in the face (not sure Mary is going to be 100% happy about that).  Again, it produces a very different feel to the image when you see it big.
  • It slows you down.  Even digital medium format is a slower process than 35mm and shooting 12 shots per roll and having to manually wind the film each time really slows you down.
  • You’re out from behind the camera.  Shooting with both eyes.  Different viewpoint, different interaction.

Now I think for some subjects I like having the freedom 35mm digital gives me to keep shooting to get what I want.  But this takes more discipline.  You tend to go for static emotion to get more ‘keepers’.

Of course there are drawbacks to using film: it’s taken me a week to get these back; it’s taken me over an hour to get them scanned; some of the negs are damaged and most are dirty or scratched (more of this later).  And these days if I wanted these traditionally printed then I’m not sure where I’d go to get them done.

But that ‘film look’ is there with the dynamic range and contrast that we all strive to achieve in our black and white conversions (even though this is a rough-enough scan of the neg).

On the whole I think it’s worth doing more with this and exploring how it can be used.  I don’t think I’ll be going digital MF just yet though.

The next step up is of course Large Format.  Again there is a change in the way images feel not just because of the resolution but also in the way the cameras and lenses behave (focal length, tilt, shift etc).  More on this from Gregory Heiser

For the record these were shot on Ilford XP2 super (400 ASA).  Mainly because I know I can get 120 film C41 processed here in Cork but I have no idea where I’d get traditional black and white done without doing it myself.  I’ve always loved XP2 from way back in my student days so no issues using it for this really.  It was fast enough to shoot with the ambient daylight on the tripod at f4.  I’ve done preliminary scans on these using my old flatbed scanner which has a TPU.  It’s not quite wide enough for the full 120 film and not in any way as good as a proper film scanner like the one I have for 35mm film – but good enough for now and the lab can scan anything I want to do more with.

Shooting Nana Part 2: Instant Gratification

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

While I wait for the 120 and 35mm films to be processed I have the digital files to look at.

Digital has changed pretty much everything about photography apart from the fundamentals of a good picture.  There’s good and bad in there though.

I set Nana up in the window light and had the Lowel available of fill or a hair light.  I used the D700 to check the exposure and the level of fill before running off on the Hasselblad. Then I shot a few more before running though the film and a couple more at the end, playing with the light.

She was pretty cool throughout but definitely got more relaxed as the session went on.

The main challenge for the digital part of the job was to work with it on the tripod, come out from behind and shoot with the cable release while more actively engaging with my subject.  Just like the old days.

The problem is that I like my portraits – especially like this one shot on location – with soft backgrounds.  In fact I like everything soft apart from the eyes.  The eyes are the window to the soul.

I went through the ‘everything tack sharp’ phase but I released that I have always been drawn to shallow-focus images.  Before I started looking into it critically I was always ‘wowed’ when I got one right (usually out of necessity cos it was dark).

They work because your brain automatically draws your attention to the sharpest thing in the shot – the eyes.  All that creamy soft background adds context but automatically isolates what’s most important about your subject. 

Then thanks to David A Williams, I released that portraiture isn’t about tack-sharp detail, it’s about emotional connection with the subject.  The fact is that most ordinary people don’t want to be able to see every pore, they want you to capture their nature.

So anyway.  I like shallow focus, that means that I have to go to great lengths to make sure focus is extremely accurate.  This is hard enough when you’re looking through the finder in complete control of the camera.  But how do you do it when you standing next to it with a release in your hand.

There are a couple of ways I can think of:

  • Tell them not to move.  OK for this subject.  Most of the time.  Not so for others.  And what if she does something spontaneous that’s nice like leaning forward (did happen).
  • Stop it down to increase your depth of field so if you’re a bit off with focus then they’ll still be sharp – OK but now you’ve lost that creamy shallow focus look and of course you need more light (or more ISO) to work with.
  • Use the camera’s AF to track the subject. Tried this one previously and it worked reasonably well.  It did track but a significant number were still soft (critically so).  I think I also discovered this ‘thing’ using AF-C wide open that was giving me some additional misses.  Good but not 100% happy.
  • Use Live View – on this generation of camera Live View has a significant lag to shoot the frame and the focus is less acurate.
  • Use ‘intelligent AF’.  Most pros tend to turn ‘intelligent’ features off because they are hard to predict – so in any given circumstance you may not know what they’re going to do.  Others just don’t trust technology just because they know what they can do without it and don’t bother to explore the limits of the tech.  So you get the ‘Manual Only’ photographer who still says he’s quicker than the tech.  Personally I think if you pay all that money for the latest technology you should use it.  But you need to know how it works and when to either turn it off or otherwise help it out.  So I use AF with a single point on subject, AP with compensation, Auto ISO with limits (and turn it off when it’s not helping), AWB (but shoot RAW).

I wanted to see how the Inteligent AF worked – in the case auto area AF-S.

Well guess what?  It worked very well.  Those Nikon guys have been working out!  There is a slight lag in focus compared to the single area focus I normally use but I don’t think I missed anything.

I helped it a bit by stopping down to f2 for most of the images (even f4 on the 85mm) but even the few I took at f1.4 seem pretty good.  Now she wasn’t moving that much and I tended to lock and watch and re-lock if I thought she’d moved.

I’m not a fan of techology for it’s own sake but this stuff really works – the combination of fast, accurate AF that is biasses towards skin tone and works in low-light, great low-light performance (so you can shoot at f4 in someone’s living room) and great, fast lenses make this work very well.

And I really enjoyed being able to forget about the camera.  Just chat away, watch my subject and fire when something interesting happened. Particularly with someone like this, who wasn’t ever going to pose for me.

Of course there’s a tendacy to look at me and not down the lens but you can always ask to look into the camera and you can always go back to the viewfinder.  But you’re much more able to see what you’re subject is doing out from behind.

A lot of good photography is about watching.  Watching and reading, trying to predict and stimulating a reaction.  It’s much easier with both eyes.

So I think I might bring this into more of my formal sittings and continue to work on it.

Processing-wise I chose a black and white conversion in Lightroom 4. Upped the orange filter for better skintone, adjusted contrast, blacks, whites, clarity and shadow.  A small bit of healing on the skin here and there and that’s it.  Not big photoshop on this one.