Putting Personality into Portraits

Leah Lindsay takes a moment at work to share her personality.

How do you get someone to share their personality in a portrait naturally and not have them pose?  I listen to the person and observe them over several minutes before I create a portrait that shows them and their personality.  This requires having the camera and lens with all of the settings correct and ready to go at any moments notice.  The above portrait of Leah Lindsay was taken while she was at work in the radio station.  We had planned on me seeing her at work, as I had to do some training for my job.  I would be in Kalispell on a day that she was in the studio and on the air.

We spent many minutes talking informally before and after this photo was taken. We caught up on what was happening in our personal and professional lives.  I also helped her tally the score on a call in competition she was holding at the time, where listeners chose between two classic rock bands as their favorite.  This was a very fun and relaxed photo shoot, which is what I prefer to do most often.

The Kohm family poses on the deck the day after Christmas in 2016.

I’d much rather have the individual or family in their own setting where they can be comfortable and acting much more natural.  The photo above was taken the day after Christmas in 2016 at the Kohm family home near Plains, Montana.  The snow was lightly falling and everyone was in very good spirits, even though it was a little cold.  I spoke with everyone several minutes before this photo was taken.  In the minutes before the photo I asked what kind of photos they wanted and where.  I  then encouraged them to all close their eyes and only open them after a count of three.  I waited one second more after the count of three, then captured this photo.  This trick works every time and is one that I learned from a professional photographer by reading his book, The Digital Photography Book.  A huge thank you to Scott Kelby, the author and photographer who has been an immense help with his easy to understand directions, tips, and suggestions on digital photography.

How often do you talk with and listen to the people you are photographing for a portrait?  Do you always have your camera and lens settings ready to capture the photo at a moments notice? Are the people you photograph for a portrait feeling relaxed, comfortable, and acting in a natural manner in front of your camera?

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Photographing Live Theater

Photographing live theater is a challenge and also very rewarding.  The obvious first step is getting the permission to photograph the play (don’t pass this step up, you must have permission).  Once you have the permission to shoot the play you will need to know some vital basic information; where the play is being held, what time is the play starting, where you can do the photography from in the audience, a list of the cast, the name of the play, and if flash photography is permitted or not (most often it is not).  Armed with this information you will need to decide the best equipment to use when capturing the actors during the performance.  I used a Canon Rebel XS and a 70-200 mm F4 IS L lens for all of the photographs you see in this blog entry (the settings are under each photo).

The play I photographed was Macbeth, performed by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks (link to their page: http://www.shakespeareintheparks.org/). They tour  each summer in 61 communities, putting on two different plays for many people who may not be able to afford to see a live theater performance in a large city. The actors are very well trained and skilled in many ways; putting up the set, working with a variety of props, and dealing with the often unpredictable, weather conditions. They create a performance that is extremely professional and unforgettable.

Macbeth has just come from murdering the king, and others. Their blood is still on his hands as he speaks to Lady Macbeth.  (Canon Rebel XS, Canon 700-200 mm F4 L IS : ISO 200, white balance was cloudy, no flash, 173 mm F8, 1/60 shutter). 

In the scene above I focused on the eyes of the actor who played Macbeth and waited until he was looking at the audience.  At this moment in the play Macbeth is speaking to Lady Macbeth about the murders he has just done and the blood on his hands. When photographing a play be certain you have the actors isolated and are choosing the best moment that is crucial to the play.  You will need to be very attentive to the play and have your camera ready at all times, as action can occur rapidly.

Macbeth’s men and women fight to keep Macbeth safe. (Canon Rebel XS, Canon 700-200 mm F4 L IS: ISO 2oo, white balance was cloudy, no flash,  114 mm,  F8, 1/45 shutter) 

For this scene I did a light pan of the action in order to not entirely freeze the battle scene and keep at least one actor’s face in focus.  The IS on the lens was activated during the entire time of the play.  Notice the shadows in the foreground background, since this play started just after 6 p.m. (Mountain Time) and did not finish until 8:15 p.m.  Late afternoon and early evening clouds and sun can be a blessing and a curse to live theater and photography.

If you can be sure to select the best location to photograph the play and take your best lens.  Make sure you are using IS or firmly handling your camera, as a tripod or monopod may not be allowed or wanted (it could be an issue for the actors or those in the audience). Once you are seated in the audience, do not move from your seat.Think about how to photograph the play that will not interfere with those on stage or around you.

The camera battery was fully charged and I used a large memory card  (16GB, as I shoot most often in RAW file format) that had been recently formatted and had very few images on it.  I ended up taking over 300 images of this play and ended up editing 260 of those, then choosing only 59 for a video (here is the link to the video I made from the still images I took of this play: https://youtu.be/lw7VjKAPmHo )

Some key things to remember when photographing a play; permission must be given to you (some plays may have equity actors who are paid, or the performance may not be recorded by any means), know where and when the play is being done (indoors or outdoors), use the best lens and settings for any lighting situation, don’t use any flash photography (it can be a distraction for the actors and audience, rather set your ISO to 400 or higher), pay close attention to the play (know what is happening and get the big scenes), don’t interfere with the audience (I was seated three rows from the stage and did not leave my seat or stand to get a “better photo.”)  Finally, do enjoy the challenge of photographing live theater.

Questions:  Do you think live theater is more challenging than sports?  How is live theater like or not like portrait photography? Would you rather shoot a rehearsal or a performance with an audience? How would you. or could you use the images of the play? Do you think photographing live theater poses different challenges than other events?

 

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Photographing Hummingbirds

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The photograph here was taken using a Canon Rebel XS, 70-200 IS L F4 lens; ISO 200, F4, 1/90, and cloudy as the white balance.  I was holding the camera still and sitting inside the house.  The hummingbird feeder is hanging from a metal hook that is on an L metal just outside the living room window.  It was taken in the evening, at 5:47 p.m. (Mountain Daylight Time).

One of the keys to getting photographs like the two in this blog entry is being ready with your equipment; have the settings on your camera and lens set in advance, a fully charged battery, and plenty of room on your memory card (preferably a fast memory card).  Another thing to be aware of is the time that hummingbirds are most actively feeding, which is in the morning after sunrise and in the evening just before sunset.

I had been watching the feeder for several days and the hummingbirds were becoming more feisty.  From observing their behaviors in the evening at the feeder, I knew exactly the photographs I wanted to capture.  The trick was being patient and waiting for the hummingbirds to be there at the right time and right place. The next challenge was being fast enough with my camera to get the two photographs you see here.

I could have set up the tripod, camera, and lens with a cable release and had everything focused on one area. Though, to be honest that is not as challenging as trying to hand hold the camera and test my reflexes and timing.  In some ways capturing hummingbirds is similar to photographing fireworks and lightning.  You know about where the action will take place and you know what will happen; it is the movement of the action that is unpredictable and exciting.

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This image of the hummingbird with the open beak behind the one at the feeder took a good deal of planning, skill, being patient, and some luck.  The evening the photographs here were taken these two hummingbirds had been flying around the feeder several times, chasing each other on one side or the other.  At times they would rapidly fly down below the window and then out of my eyesight.  Many other times they would fly up the side of the feeder and then higher and off to a large tree that is roughly 30-40 feet from where the feeder is located outside the living room window.  I spent anywhere from 30-40 minutes of time waiting, watching, and photographing the birds until I finally captured the two photographs in this blog entry.  It was well worth it, as the images here show.

Where is your hummingbird feeder placed?  Have you thought of moving the feeder next to a window?  How often do you photograph hummingbirds?  Do you know the proper ratio of sugar to water to create your own hummingbird nectar for the feeder?

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Small Bird Photography

Small bird photography can be a challenge, as they are very fast when they are in flight and feeding.  I learned how to photograph small birds from the inside of my home to increase the number of quality photographs.

I moved the bird feeder close to the living room window and sat in a comfortable chair inside the house with my Canon DSLR and Canon 70-200mm F4L IS lens.  I have tried using the aperature priority settings on the camera and learned those are adequate once in a while.  After many photos turned out to be slightly out off focus or completely blurred, I switched to the sports setting and used the burst feature.  The lens was set to auto focus and image stabilizer was turned on. I handheld the camera as I was taking the photograph.

Here is the result of the changes I made in the camera settings:

A Dark Eyed Junco has some bird seed on the beak and underneath as it sits in front of a bird feeder near Plains, Montana.

A Dark Eyed Junco has some bird seed on the beak and underneath as it sits in front of a bird feeder near Plains, Montana.

The photo was cropped close to show the bird and the bird feeder in the background.

How often have you seen birds at the feeder and wanted to get close photographs of them?Would you like to see the birds from the comfort of your living room chair?   Have you considered moving your bird feeder closer to a window?

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Comparing Portrait and Landscape Orientation Views

Portrait and landscape are the two main orientation views used in photography.   The portrait has the vertical look with the longer sides being taller than the top and bottom of the photograph and is often used for a single portrait of an individual.  A portrait view is often the preferred one used for magazine covers. The size of the portrait orientation photograph can be as small as a wallet photograph, or full size (often either a 5×7 or 8×10, or larger). The landscape view has the top and bottom of the photograph being longer than the sides and is often used in landscape photography. Landscape view is often used when creating photographs of landscapes, groups, and other other subjects.  Often this view is seen inside of magazines and may be a half page or smaller in size.  Portrait and landscape orientations both show unique differences and can be used on the same subject.

The two photographs in this blog entry are of the same scene and were taken within a few minutes of each other. The first photograph below shows the scene in the portrait orientation view.

A low fog is slowly moving behind Smiley Slough near Plains, Montana.

A low fog is slowly moving behind Smiley Slough near Plains, Montana.

Notice how the top and bottom of the photograph are shorter in length than the sides.  The landscape orientation view photograph below is of the same scene taken within minutes and gives you a slightly wider view.

A low fog is behind Smiley Slough near Plains, Montana.

A low fog is slowly behind Smiley Slough near Plains, Montana.

Notice how the landscape orientation view has the top and bottom longer in length than the sides.

When comparing the two photographs here you can see that there are some differences in how much of the scene was captured.  The landscape view photograph shows more of the fog, land, and water, while the portrait view photograph shows more of the sky and less land and water.  For both of these photographs I used the same lens (a Canon 18-55mm IS 3.5-5.6) that was handheld.  The main difference between the two photographs is the orientation of the camera.  The focal length of the lens; the portrait view photograph was taken at 37mm and the landscape view was taken at 44mm.  The camera was a Canon Rebel XS with the settings for both photographs as follows; ISO was 200, the fstop was set at f8.0, with the white balance at cloudy, the program mode was Aperature Priority, and no flash was used. I used Canon Digital Photo Professional and Picasa software to process both of the photographs in this blog entry.

Which view do you prefer and appears to be best, portrait or landscape?  Are you photographing all of your subjects in only one view orientation, or have you tried to photograph them in both?  How often do you photograph a landscape in portrait view?  Do you think the portrait view should be limited or used  mainly when creating portraits, magazine covers, and wallet sized photos?  Are there other uses for the portrait orientation view of a photograph?

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Bald Eagle near Montana Highway 200

A Bald Eagle sits in a tree near Highway 200, close to Heron (Montana).

A Bald Eagle sits in a tree near Highway 200, close to Heron (Montana).

This Bald Eagles in the tree had been with other large birds on the remains of a deer by the side of Montana Highway 200 near Heron (Montana).  The time this photograph was taken at 1:28 p.m. on March 8, 2016.  As I passed the Bald Eagle we made eye contact for a few seconds.  I found a safe place a few miles down the highway to turn around and drove back. I then quietly parked the car, quietly exited and closed the door without moving to quickly.  The Bald Eagle flew up into the tree in the photograph here and remained there for about thirty minutes, allowing me to capture nine high quality photographs.  (The camera and lens settings for this photo: ISO 200, White Balance was cloudy, F4.5, 1/250 shutter, handheld, lens IS setting was turned ON.)

I had my 70-200mm F4 IS Canon L lens attached to my Rebel XS camera, which is often my main camera and lens combination most days.  I usually preset the following on my camera; 200 ISO, AV–( Aperature Priority), RAW photo mode, White Balance, make sure the battery has a full charge, and keep the memory card either half empty or able to record the maximum capacity based on the card and camera settings.  (I format the memory card often after transfer of photos to my computer.).  With the telephoto zoom I preset the IS to ON, the AF is set to ON, and Mode 2 is selected.   The key to capturing wildlife is to be scanning the sides of the highway as you drive, keep the camera near you, make sure you have the time, be careful and  safely find a place to stop and do the photography so you do not negatively impact the wildlife and traffic.

What wildlife do you enjoy photographing?  Do you have a favorite telephoto lens that is often attached to your camera? What items do you preset on your camera and lens?  What time of day do you often see and photograph the wildlife in your area?  Is your camera in your car beside you when you are driving to work or other places?

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Waiting for the Right Moment

On Smiley Slough, lone Canadian Goose takes flight past a large flock of ducks.

On Smiley Slough, lone Canadian Goose takes flight past a large flock of ducks.

Waiting for the right moment is a matter of patience and keeping your camera and lens ready at all times.  The photo here was created by watching and waiting for the Canadian Goose to take flight from the lake.  My camera is the Canon Rebel XS, with a 70-200mm F4 IS lens attached.  The image stabiliser on the lens was turned on, along with the correct panning mode (2).  I panned slowly as the Canadian Goose began to move and followed it as the feet were moving on the water.  Surprisingly, the ducks nearby were not startled and did not take flight or move quickly away.  The time I spent watching and waiting for the goose to take flight was many minutes, holding the camera steady and looking through the viewfinder.

(The specific settings of the camera and lens: Rebel XS; F8, ISO 200, cloudy (white balance), 1/640, 200mm, IS on, Mode 2 on)

How long do you wait for the right moment to happen?  Do you ever become tired or distracted while waiting for the right moment?  Have you found the perfect place to be ready while you wait for that right moment? What is the longest you have waited for the right moment?  How did you know it was the correct moment to take the photo?

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