Friday, January 27, 2012

New Year's Eve at our tree farm

...and the photographer said, "Let there be light!" And there was light - and it was good. And the weather was great considering it was a winter day in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Due to an unexpected flat tire - aren't they always unexpected? - I didn't get to the party in the hills until around 4 p.m.
But I was still in time to relax and go up to the newly built platform to view the last sunset of 2011 with my sister and her family and friends.

And as we sat around the campfire, telling stories and making good things to eat, I looked up at the towering trees, the majesty of which caused my father to call our cabin and its surroundings "Chartres".

After the sun set, thousands of stars appeared that I hadn't seen in years. The light smog in Stuttgart doesn't allow for such wonderful night skies.

Three of us were playing with our cameras in the dark, so I decided to show the others about painting with light, using the flashlights that are so important to us out there in the dark (if you need to find something or go to the outhouse between 8 pm and 6:30 am). Jane held nice and still, so her facial features - especially her eyes - came out fairly sharp in this 35-second exposure. 

35 sec., f13, ISO 400, 50mm
This next portrait looks strangely Middle Eastern. Kate's hair band looks like a turban and the fact that only her eyes were illuminated by Jane's flashlight makes the rest of her face look strangely secretive as if it were wrapped in a scarf. It's the opposite of the type of lighting you usually want for a portrait, but this image has stuck in my mind. That shows me that rules are made to be toyed with.

50 sec., f13, ISO 100, 100mm

Now it is up to you to guess how we made this next picture. Kate's flashlight shadow reminds me of Friedrich Schiller's profile.

Now we've got a very dramatic looking scene. It reminds me very much of a scene from an expressionistic drama. Wanna guess how we made that?

Finally, we did the type of light painting that some of you may have also played with. Kate stood still while her friend traced around her with a flashlight pointed at the camera.

Even in the dark it is possible to take pictures, ones that you can't take during the day!
The first day of the year we walked over our tree farm. Pictures from that hike will follow.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips for taking portraits at home

Senior portraits

While I was in Virginia last week, I took some pictures of my beautiful niece Jane for her "senior pictures". That genre had escaped my notice, except for having seen her elder sister's pictures last year. I still don't really know if they are supposed to express something in particular. I just wanted to get some shots of her in her familiar surroundings and since I was staying with my sister that week anyway, we had time for two sessions.

Every experienced photographer will tell you that it's much easier to get pleasing pictures if your model is pretty. Well, that was the case here. The only stumbling blocks we occurred were 1) the cold weather, which pretty much precluded our shooting outdoors for extended periods of time; and 2) my limited equipment. For all the tutorials I've watched on one-light portraits, I still wish I had had a second one and my good Lastolite Trigrip reflector set. My umbrella and flash tripod would also have been helpful, but I was travelling light, so I had to improvise. One light only!

So as you see in the picture above, I wanted to capture her in settings that were important to her. Since practically everyone in our family is an artist - Jane included - we got a shot of her with her great brushes.

The nice mirror on her wall seemed like it would make a good frame for a photograph, so I set up the flash and a piece of poster board to the right of the mirror, the flash pointing into the large white surface to create a soft light and nice big catch lights in her eyes. But the light isn't what I like best about this picture; it's her pose!

Jane learned very quickly about looking into the light, keeping her eyes open and chin down. We were shooting with very little ambient light, so her pupils look large in the pictures.
For the next shot I put the flash behind her. I wanted a dreamy look, so backlighting seemed to be the way to go. The flash had enough power to light her face as well. Again, the natural pose here makes the picture what it is.

For some of the poses, she chose to smile sometimes and close her mouth for others. What a difference that makes! Here I prefer the nice, big smile!

Another big part of Jane's artistic and athletic life is dancing. She will graduate with honors in dance from the Culver Academies in June. So we took some pictures of her as the ballerina she has become. I like this introspective pose.

And here I put a snoot on my flash to create a line of light along her extended leg and her arm. It was also important to get some light on her left arm, too.

These last two pictures and the following one looked better in b/w than in color because you concentrate on the person and composition rather than the surroundings. The following picture shows Jane brimming with confidence, which is what a full-front portrait does.

Finally, here's the picture which Jane has chosen as her facebook profile picture. It's full of confidence, glamour, beauty and kindness. What more could you want in a niece?