Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memorial Park Portrait Session

Saturday I had the opportunity to photograph a friend I used to work with and his family. We had a 45 minute session beginning at 6:30PM in Memorial Park in Houston. This was my first attempt at trying to do this and, predictably, I made a lot of mistakes which resulted in a pretty low success rate. I only ended up with six shots from the session that I consider "keepers". This is the first three of them and I would really appreciate your feed back about how you think I did and how I might have done better. All of the shots were taken with my Canon 40D and Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom and using a homemade beauty dish off camera for fill light early early in the shoot and for the key light as it got later in the evening.

Title: "The Family"

Shot data: 1/25s f/5.0 at 45.0mm iso200

Title: "Her"

Shot data: 1/80s f/4.5 at 55.0mm iso200

Title: "Him"

Shot data: 1/50s f/4.5 at 55.0mm iso200


Anonymous said...

I'm not the portrait expert (re:LP) but it looks like you tried to use Gaussian blur instead of controlling depth of field? I think it makes the photos look a little odd. I could be wrong about that.

I like the exposure in #1, #2 looks a little too bright(white) on her forehead and under her eyes. Skin tones don't seem to match up, #3 looks fine to me. He has a little red tint on the right side of his face (not that right, his right) but it's also in the 1st shot and is probably what his skin looked like.

I hate commenting on this because I'll be blamed for being harsh from someone.

Jan Klier said...

I second the comment on the blur - it doesn't look natural particularly in the hair areas. Though looking at your data, it may actually have been low DoF to blame here. 45mm and 55mm is on the short end for portrait photography, even with a crop sensor.

I like the lighting in the 3rd the most. Key high at angle, and a better ratio to your fill. On the 2nd the fill is too strong and her face overall looks flashy. On the first, you have nice ambient light, and the fill could even have been lower to just open up the shadows.

2nd image the pose and use of space is a bit off, and she looks like she's getting really tired. I think the 3rd is the best of all of those images.

Nice job. Only one way to get better - keep shooting....

Cindi said...

I am certainly not knowledgeable about portraiture either but to me all of these are nice portraits and I bet your friends are happy with them. I do agree that the blur seems added and if so, that is the exact reason I do not like my 24 - 70 mm 2.8 lens for portraiture --- it does not blur the backgrounds enough for me. My 50mm 1.8 or 70 - 200mm 2.8 (LJP's favorite portrait lens) are so much better for backgrounds. I really like the whole family shot, I like the play of light across them, their expressions are nice (well, the little guy, not quite as nice as the parents but kids are hard) and their clothing is not distracting. I like the close-in composition and the fact that their faces are not all on the exact same line, they vary up and down a little. The brightness on the woman's face in the second image can be toned down in post processing but you haven't lost any skin detail as it is. I do think the first image is more flattering of her. You will only get better with practice and this first session is a great start.

Barry Armer said...

Thanks Anon (Doug?) and Jan!

Your comments are really helpful!

Doug - I did use Gaussian blur on the backgrounds because I didn't get the background blur I wanted from the lens and camera setting choices I made. I discuss that a little more below. And you’re right about Tor's face; he's fair skinned and it was still pretty hot out to be wearing jeans and running around trying to keep up with a one year old!

Jan - I had a 17-85mm lens I probably should have gone with but it's a slower lens than my 17-55mm and I was worried that I would have difficulties getting enough light with it. I would have liked to have used my 100-400m to improve the background blur but I felt like that would have put me too far away from my subjects to be practical. As far at the pose in the 2nd photo goes ... well I could fill a book with what I don't know about posing! Truth is though with worrying about exposure, lighting and focus I really wasn't able to give posing the consideration it requires. It is very much a learning process for me at this point and I definitely plan to keep shooting until I figure it out! Friend's comments help me a lot!


Barry Armer said...

Thanks Cindi!

I do have a fast 50 (f/1.4) but I'm a little afraid to use it anywhere near wide open because of the very narrow depth of field. Perhaps I'm overly concerned about that issue? Do you use your 50 at f/1.8 for portraiture? I suppose I'll also eventually have to get a 70-200 f/2.8 if I going to get serious about this.

Thanks again for the feedback!


Jan Klier said...


So there are two things you can do on your DoF concerns:

a) Most Canon cameras have a DoF preview button. Not many folks know it or use it. It's located at the lens mount lower left. Usually the camera leaves your lens wide open while you compose. If you push the button the lens will close to the selected aperture allowing you to see the changes in DoF. But it will also make your viewfinder much darker.

b) Go to dofmaster.com which is an online DoF calculator in which you enter focal length, aperture, subject distance and type of camera, and it tells you your DoF range. With that and knowing what you're aiming for you could develop what your safe range for aperture on the 50mm is. Generally you would want enough DoF to go to about the ears and then fall off, so 2-3". But it's a function of distance to the subject, so you need to figure out how close you need to get to frame the face at this focal length.

Getting further away from the subject during a portrait isn't bad, as long as you remain within talking distance. In fact it can help as your lest apt to intrude the personal space of your subject, particularly on non-models.

If you do use a Gaussian blur to do it after the fact (and I think there are AilenSkin plugins that do a pretty nice job for you) you have to look out for two things: how you mask it and that where the blur comes into play is realistic to the eye given the depth. I think this is where things went sideways on this one and made it look unnatural. They eyes a pretty good at doing a realty check. The second thing you have to look out for is a halo-effect. Because the Gaussian blur borrows colors from neighboring areas, you get the color of the blouse to bleed into the background color right at the transition area. So you have to isolate background/foreground first before applying the blur to prevent the bleeding. I described this in an old blog post: http://photos.janklier.com/2007/06/editing-depth-of-field.html

Cindi said...

With babies and young children, since their faces are more shallow than adults, I can shoot wide open on my 50mm 1.8 as long as I make sure their eyes are in the same plane or the farther one will go out of focus, but I try to shoot as wide open as I can both for the fast shutterspeeds and for the background blur. But, I think my 50 1.8 and my 70 - 200 2.8 give a better background even stopped down some, like to f4 or 5.6 than my 28 - 70 mm 2.8 at those same apertures...I don't understand it but guess it has something to do with physics! I have been preferring the small 50mm because it is so easy to use, not heavy and intimidating to the subject like the 70 - 200, and I can easily get a full body shot or move in for a closeup. With older kids or adults I think the bigger lens works fine. I need to try that 28 - 70 again but make sure my subjects are very far in front of the background and maybe that will be better...I do miss the zoom capabilty of the fixed lens. Maybe Canon lenses work differently than Nikon, but that is what I have found so far. Try your 50 mm at f4 and 5.6 and see if you like the effect and how far back you can get a face in focus...it does not bother me if the ears and hair are not as sharp as the front of the face but that is personal taste.

Cindi said...

I just checked my exif on my last post of J and I shot that at 1.8 --- his whole face is in focus but his front foot is not, FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot to put my name on the first one Barry. Good guess.

I'm not sure you need to go all the way with the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 if you mainly want it for portraits or lugging around. You can save some money and weight going with the F4, and while I own the 2.8, most pro photographers shooting portraits have the Canon F4. Matter of fact, during the workshop with Hanson Fong on Monday, he noted it's one of his main portrait lenses.

You still get a pleasing OOF background at F4 and its a sharp lens. Some say sharper than the Canon F2.8.


Larry J. Patrick said...

Barry, you have some nice shots here and your friends should be very happy with your work.

Cindi is absolutely correct, my favorite lens for head shots and three quarter shots is the 70-200 f/2.8. It provides excellent bokah and also helps compress which usually helps older people's face and the background.

The only problem that I see is that you started your session a little late. You can shoot earlier as long as you shoot in the shade and make adjustment for the ambient light if the background is in the sun.

As to the bokah effect, I have not really found any filters in Photoshop that does a very good job producing it. I think that a better solution to a background which is not blurred enough is to de-saturate the colors slightly in Photoshop. It has a similar effect as blurring.

Nice job.

Jan Klier said...

This is the bokeh filter I was referring to earlier: http://alienskin.com/bokeh/index.aspx

You could download the free trial and see how it runs on these images. Would actually be interesting to see.

I recall Ted from TME playing with it a while ago. I have other AlienSkin software and am pretty happy with them. Don't have this one though.


Barry Armer said...

Wow! Thanks everyone for the terrific response!

This is why I really enjoy blogging!! The feedback I get from you guys is invaluable to me!

Thanks for all your comments!