Digital Photography 3 Quick Tips For Better Portraits

Transcripts from the video/podcast “Digital Photography 3 Quick Tips For Better Portraits”.

Here’s the video below, just in case you missed it.

SCOTT: Hey, everyone and welcome to another video, another podcast/video that we’re doing here today.  And actually, I’m here with my good buddy, Joe Marshall.  Joe, how’s it going?  Are you ready to do this video with me?

JOE: We just got over one holiday, and we’re looking forward to the new one.

SCOTT: Yeah, exactly.

JOE: I think we have a timely picture here coming up about that.

SCOTT: Yeah.  Just let me tell people what we’re going to be talking about today.  We actually just finished up, or we’re just finishing up I should say, our lighting workshop, the EZ Flash Photography Workshop, which was a blast.  And Joe and I had a great time with it.  The students were awesome.  A lot of people are getting a lot of great techniques and recipes to use.  And this lesson is actually going to be from one our students.  She actually had a question with one of her images and wanted us to critique it.  And that’s what we’re going to do here.


We have a couple of things that we can do to improve this image, but also her biggest thing was is saying, “How do I get the background white?  It doesn’t look white to me.”  And if you look, you can see the snowman; you can see the little blanket; and you can see her shirt.  You can see the pole even in the back of the North Pole there and then the background just looks bluish gray.  And Joe, do you want to talk a little bit about that and why that could be happening?

JOE: You have to be careful on your white fabrics that you buy, even if you bought a sheet at Walmart or whatever.  Their manufacturers are using brighteners.  You certainly don’t want to wash it with a fabric softener or bleach.  All these things add bluing agents to the material, and it may look white to our eye, but it does not look certainly that way to the camera and lens in your picture.  So what we can do here is we can whiten it if she continues to use this.

We can put our flash and make sure that we have a nice bright background back there.  We might meter her face and get an F5.6.  Well, then all we need for the background is to be brighter, and 5.6 would be an 8 would be brighter.  That might not show the blues.  In other words, if we put enough light back there, but not two stops.  One stop ought to do it.  I don’t know how she lit this here.  I can see in the balls down in the fabric there that I see two specular highlights.  So that tells me that she’s got at least two lights, flash units off to the sides there.

SCOTT: Joe, I just want to cut in there.  She did say she used three lights for this setup.  And we just don’t know exactly where they’re positioned, which we’ll probably get some more information on this, but we did want to just share this because the background itself was the issue for her.  And our suggestion to her right away would be number one, if you’re going to use that, you’re going to have to throw more light on it.  Right, Joe?

JOE: Right.  And then she said that she saw wrinkles in the background.  Of course, we have them by her feet.  We’ve said how to buy those A clamps, those spring clamps at Home Depot, and if she stretches out the material to the pole that it’s hanging on, she can kind of like draw that tight and get that material, the fabric out.  The other way is your depth of field when you’re lighting this.  If you metered the face and you’ve got 5.6 and you do put 8 on the background, 8 and 11 for a background are going to show a lot of depth of field from her hand on her knee all the way in the back, and we may not want to show all those wrinkles back there.

So then, if we could get a 4 on her face and a 5.6 for the background light, that would be less depth of field than 8 on that background and should clear up any of the wrinkles that are caused by depth of field.  It’s showing all the background too sharp with an F-stop of 8 or 11.

SCOTT: Yeah.  And I think that’s important for people to understand because, again, like we said, this is a holiday shot, but this is something that you can take with you and put it in your little bag of tricks.  Because whenever you see those pictures where everything is clear on the subject but in the background it’s all blurred out, you see that and that’s just that professional portrait look.  And that’s how you get that.  That’s exactly how you get that is by having those different variables just like Joe said with changing your F-stops.  And that gives you a shallow depth of field.

Like some people just hear depth of field.  Depth of field could be a sharp depth of field because everything is in plain, but when you have a shallow depth of field, it’s where the subject is in focus and everything behind it is going to be out of focus.  Now another way that you could do this with even that and make it even more out of focus is to move her further away from the background.  Isn’t that correct, Joe?

JOE: Right.  We can’t tell because of the depth here how far away that white is, but all we need in focus basically is the carrot nose on the snowman and just the sign that says North Pole.  And that’s only about maybe two feet of depth.  So all of that will be sharp at F4, and you could just let the background go out of focus after F4.  Even if you had to go to a 5.6 because of your lens, that is not making an F8 or 11 so everything back there is sharp.  All that you’re going to see is going to be sharp right here because it’s only about a 2-foot depth.  Like I said, from the carrot to the North Pole.

SCOTT: That’s exactly what I’m saying.  So what I think people should take away from that is right there.  Depth of field.  Shallow depth of field can make your pictures a lot better, look a lot more professional.  And it can also get rid of those wrinkles in the background or something that you don’t want seen in the background.  You might have someone else in the background and you’re at a park and you want to blur out the background because you only want to focus in on your child.

So you can take that one little tip with you and put that in your bag of tricks and it’s going to help you a lot.  The other thing I want to point out here, Joe, is her glasses.  A lot of people have a tough time with the glasses with the glare.  Any tips on that, how she got that and how other people can maybe be conscious of that?

JOE: Yeah, she handled this well.  You can see the glare when you’re looking through the viewfinder.  Now what it is is when you’re taking your shot you’re looking to make sure they smile; you’re making sure you’re not cutting off a hand or a foot; but take that extra moment and look and see if your umbrella or your softbox is reflected back into her glasses.  Have her tilt her chin down.  I’ve even gone up and I’ve titled the stem of the glasses so that they’re a little higher behind her hair there and the glasses are a little tilted down.

Any of those things will get rid of the glare from the umbrella reflection.  But you can see that.  Take that extra second in your viewfinder to make sure you scan the entire image and you’re looking for the feet and everything, but also look for glare that’s off of anything that reflective.  Like you can see the decoration balls.  I can see the lights where her setup was because they reflected in there.  But I don’t want that in her glasses.

SCOTT: Right.  And that’s a great point.  So right there I think number one, Shelly who this picture is for that we were going to do this little review for but just in our class, but I wanted to share it with everyone because there’s a lot of tips right there that you can use.  Number one, the background material that you use if you’re going to use white, which you should because I think it’s really clean and pure.  To get those wrinkles out, you can go with a shallow depth of field.  The eyeglass glare.  So right there, there’s three tips for you right now that’s going to make your photography even better.

So that’s it.  That’s going to wrap up this little mini lesson.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  And we’ll talk to you real soon.  And if you have any comments or anything, just leave them on the blog for us.  All right?  So Joe, anything else you want to say before we wrap this up?

JOE: Happy Holidays, folks.

SCOTT: Yeah.  Happy Holidays, right.  It’s almost here.  All right guys.  We’ll see you in the next lesson.  Take care.  Happy shooting.  Talk to you later.  Bye.


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