Despite all that has been written about keeping the background of your photos simple, that goal is not always achievable. Sometimes your subject is in a place with a busy background everywhere. Or perhaps the subject is doing something that you don’t want to interrupt by walking around the person or requesting that she or he move to a different location.
I have found a very quick solution for such cases. Take the picture you want and then work on the background in Photoshop or another image editing program. First, I crop such images to remove part of the background. That alone makes the background somewhat less intrusive. But often I don’t want to eliminate it entirely; I merely want to de-emphasize it. One quick fix is first to blur the background slightly and then to adjust the saturation of both background and subject.
Recently, my brother came to visit. He and another friend of mine had an animated conversation in my kitchen. These were two very large guys and their expansive gestures and expressions really captured my interest. I grabbed a camera and took a whole series of pictures of them holding their conversation in my cluttered kitchen. The first picture shows enough of the background to distract from the person, my brother.
Self-portrait shooters usually rely on the trial-and-error method of focusing. Shoot, shoot, and shoot again until the perfect combination of pose, exposure, and focus are achieved. But there is a better way (several, in fact)! All of these methods are quick and easy and will give you accurate focusing without a lot of frustrating trial and error.
Before you begin, you’ll just need to acquaint yourself with how to put your camera into manual focus mode. You won’t actually use manual focus for focusing—you’ll just use it to keep the focus once you’ve got it set just the way you want. For each of the methods below (except the last one), you’ll auto-focus first and then set the camera to manual focus so that it won’t attempt to re-focus when you take the shot. You’ll also find that having a remote shutter release helps immensely.
For years, I was too shy to ask to take a stranger’s picture. Normally, I’m not at all shy. I’ll talk to anyone. But stick a camera in my hand and I would become horribly self-conscious. I thought it a bit presumptuous to ask to take someone’s picture. After all, I wasn’t a “real” photographer but only a hobbyist.
I did take photographs of people who were unaware. Some were interesting pictures, I thought, that captured moments or moods. They were small slices of real, unrehearsed and unself-conscious life. I think such pictures have an important place in any photographer’s repertoire, but I am not discussing those here.
Then I read up on various ways that street photographers took pictures without being noticed. These surreptitious shots did not appeal to me, though, because they seemed a bit sneaky. I wanted either pictures of people completely unaware, or pictures of people who were totally aware. I did not want to furtively snap images of people who did not want their pictures taken.
One of my favorite photo locations right now is our upstairs bathroom. The tub and toilet are separated from the rest of the bathroom by a door which can be opened or closed to let in varying amounts of sunlight from the window in the outer room. Combine that with a small flash and you get perfect portraits every time:
- Just drape a cloth over the shower bar (or buy a nice looking shower curtain)
- Turn off the lights
- Point your flash at the wall behind you and to the left
- Fire away!
If you’ve got a window, a little investigating may reveal that you get perfect light in your bathroom (or some other small room in your home) at certain times of the day just from that. Sure, it’s a little cramped but you can’t beat the price and you can’t argue with the results.
One of my goals when I take portraits is to make sure the resulting photograph is flattering to the subject. There are a ton of techniques one can use to improve a portrait from lighting to digital alteration but one of the very best and quickest ways also happens to be one of the easiest. Here are three photos of the same subject taken from three different perspectives (uh, please forgive the model). In the first, the camera was slightly below the subject shooting up, then at eye-level in the second, and finally a few inches above the subject:
It’s clear to me that the last photo is the most flattering. Not only does this perspective make me look thinner, notice that it also opens up the eyes and hides wrinkle-revealing shadows. A few inches of elevation above the subject’s eye-level is all you need.