This is a guest blog post by Trevor Dean Rideout, a lifestyle and family photographer based in central Newfoundland.
So you’ve conquered exposure, you confident in your ability to shoot in manual or priority modes and your getting some great feedback on your photography. What next? Well here are three things to apply to your craft, that don't cost money, you can apply in-camera, and will improve your photography overnight!
These techniques are simple in theory but take time to become second nature. Don't fret and as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.
1. Focus On The Eyes
You've probably heard this expression more than once and may be wondering to yourself, “well what does that mean?”. The concept is simple. Set your focus mode to center focus. Most if not all camera's today have the ability to move your focus zone around between those little squares in your camera, but for now let's just focus on the very center. When shooting portraits, it is usually the most ascetically pleasing to shoot with a wider aperture. This helps to separate your subject from the background and gives you nice creamy backdrops. The biggest issue here, is that the result of opening your aperture nice and wide, decreases you “depth of field” (DOF). Wherever you zone in that focus point, is where your subject will be most in focus. To guarantee the best results you need to focus on the eyes. As humans, our first instinct when viewing a photograph is to look at what's in focus, and in portraiture, the most important element is the eyes.
So, have a look through your viewfinder, line up that little square right over the eye that is closest to you and press your shutter half way down. This will lock in that focal area and give you nice sharp results on the eye that you've chosen. Whatever else falls outside of the DOF at this point is irrelevant. Sometimes, you may not be able to frame the scene exactly the way you want it, if you just focus and shoot in the one spot. This is where locking in your focus (half press of the shutter) and then recomposing your shot, comes in to play. As long as you do not move the camera forward and backward, you will stay within your focal plane, and the chosen point will stay in focus. This is absolutely essential when shooting at anything wider than f5.6 but should become common practice whenever your photographing people.
2. Watch Your Crop!
I see this mistake made probably more than any other when photographing people. If you're not careful about where you frame your subject, you may end up cutting off fingers, toes, limbs, etc. While this is probably something you may have never noticed, it is commonly accepted rule in Art. There are though, what we call “crop points”. The general rule you need to remember, is don't crop at anything that bends. Most commonly you will see fingers cropped at the edges of the frame. Standard crop could include about midway down the bicep, above the waist (midway between the sternum and waistline) and about midway between the waist line and knees. When you crop at other sections of the body it tends to make the subject look amputated and is not considered ascetically pleasing.
3. Watch Your Backgrounds
This is also one of those things that you need to become completely aware of when photographing people. It requires what you might refer to as “situational awareness”. When you’re composing your photo you may want to include some of the background to help better portray the story you’re trying to tell. What you need to watch for is objects passing through your main subject. Commonly it would end up being power lines, tree branches and other architectural features; although I have seen some instances that involve much more hilarity. You have to keep in mind that we see in 3 dimensions, but our camera's only have the ability to convert that scene into 2 dimensions. This means that you may see your subject in front of a very compelling backdrop with lots of people and things behind them, but your camera may tell a different story. Deeper in the frame, objects tend to shrink, in relation to your subject. This could mean that although you see a person walking down the street, once compressed, that person could be walking right into your subjects ear (as a less likely, but more comical example). So keep your eyes open and make a habit of scanning the entire viewfinder area. When we're first starting out, we tend to focus on one thing … whatever the main subject we're trying to photograph. Try to make a conscious effort, whenever you’re composing your shot, to take a quick scan around the entire area of the viewfinder. This will also help to better express your vision. Think about what you want to include in the frame and what you don't. Even though our higher resolution sensors allow us to do some pretty heavy cropping in post, it is always better to nail it, in camera, and have the ability to work with the entire resolution of the photo.
So there you have it! Three simple techniques that you can apply right now. They don't cost any money, don't require any special software but they will take time to perfect and make second nature. Practice these techniques daily and before you know, you won't even know you're thinking about it!
Since this blog is all about learning and sharing, how about dropping a link to one of your images (use Flickr if you have to) that uses one or possibly all that Trevor has talked about in this post? Don't spam the comment box. One entry per person please. So, what are you waiting for? Let's see some of your images! If you do post anonymously, I reserve the right to delete your comment.