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Portrait Photography tips for Beginners
91. Choose your model carefully
I always laugh when I see the models that photographers choose for a shoot that will be used commercially (even iStock). They always seem to choose the hottest girl they can find, rather than a nice looking person who is attractive and approachable. The truth is that sometimes the hot girl also looks kinda mean and unapproachable. How many companies do you know of that want an unapproachable person to be the face of the company? Not many! Pick someone who is attractive and approachable, who has that girl next door look.
92. Set your picture style to portrait even if shooting in RAW
Canon calls them picture styles, and Nikon calls them picture controls. Whatever you call it, the way the camera processes the photo will have a (fairly significant) impact on how the final picture looks. Many photographers are taught that the picture style doesn t matter if you re shooting in RAW, because you can change it later without any loss of data. While this is true, it fails to take into account the fact that the photo shown on the back of the LCD is a JPEG preview that uses the picture style. This can impact the way you expose the picture and how you set up lighting. Since I m mostly a landscape photographer, I always have to remember to change to the portrait picture style when I shoot people or else I will mess up the lighting if I think there is too much contrast between foreground and background.
93. Quit sharpening blindly
It is absolutely necessary to sharpen portraits, and no. Sharpening and the Clarity slider in Photoshop or Lightroom is not the same thing. Unfortunately, many photographers sharpen portraits globally by using unsharp mask on the entire image or the Sharpness slider in Lightroom. Portraits absolutely require selective sharpening. The eyes and hair should get quite a bit of sharpening, but the skin should usually be blurred rather than sharpened. Take the extra 30 seconds on your portraits to sharpen selectively and you ll see a significant improvement in your image quality.
94. Try a silhouette
The best time to shoot a silhouette is when the sun is low on the horizon and the shape of the model is clear and distinctive. For example, little girls running across the beach at sunset would be a perfect time for a silhouette.
95. Artificially light your subject naturally
Some of my favorite portraits use light sources other than outdoor lighting or flash. There are many other natural light sources that you can use to get a dramatic mood, such as a person holding a candle near their face, or being lit by the light that comes off a computer screen in the dark, etc. This type of lighting sets a mood that can t be recreated any other way.
96. If you re going to use HDR use it wisely
HDR has many negative effects that I discuss inmy eBook on HDR. For example, HDR increases thegrain (not noise!), brings out texture, produces unnatural colors, and fills in all shadows. While the magnitude of the impact of these drawbacks can be minimized, HDR will always increase these things. Unfortunately, all of those things are negatives for portraits. While HDR can be perfect for shooting a portrait where detail and grunginess is the style of the photo (like a black and white of a bearded man in a third world country), most models don t want to look grainy, shadowless, and textured. But sometimes we want to shoot an HDR portrait anyway to get a cool look on the background. To get the best of both worlds, process the HDR normally and then process one of the single RAW images as a traditional portrait. Then mask together the two images so the skin of the traditional image is shown, but the HDR of the background is shown. Now you have the best of both worlds.
97. If you are going to crop it give it a full amputation
Cropping in on a person can be difficult. Beginning photographers commonly shoot only full body shots because they aren t quite sure where to crop the body. The best tip I can give is not to crop off part of the body half way. For example, if you re going to crop off part of the head, make sure it isn t just skimming off the top of someone s scalp. If you are going to crop the top of the head, then crop down into the forehead so the viewer feels that you did it on purpose. Many photographers teach not to crop along the joints (knees, elbows, wrists, etc). That is also good advice, but I think that what it is trying to teach is to crop intentionally. If you re going to crop a little of the body, crop a lot.
98. Use backdrops creatively
Studio backdrops (you know, the splotchy colored ones that look like they were tie dyed by a two year old) generally make for a pretty dull portrait, but there is a way to fix it! The reason the textured background looks boring is because it is evenly lit. Remember, light is EVERYTHING! By turning the backdrop so it is at an angle to the camera, part of it will fall into shadow while the other side will remain brighter. This contrast makes the backdrop look ten times more interesting. You can do the same thing with a white background. The side closer to the camera will be white, and the back side will look dark gray because it won t catch the light as much. This gradient can be a really creative background.
99. Bring a cheap romance novel to the shoot
One cool tip I thought of the other day is to play a game when on a shoot. For example, I thought I could bring a cheap paperback romance novel to an engagement shoot. If the couple is a bit stiff and won t play with each other and laugh, I bring out the book and have them start playing a game. They have to open the book and read one full sentence of the romance novel to their partner without laughing or smiling. Inevitably, it leads to hysterical laughter, smiling, and natural looking expressions. All the while, I m standing 20 feet away capturing the moment.
100. Use the correct focus mode
When in the moment of a portrait photography shoot, it s easy to forget the little things. For 99% of portraits, I use single shot focus mode. However, if I switch to a shot of someone walking down a path toward the camera or a groom jumping as the couple runs to the chapel, then I need to remember to switch to continuous focus (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon) so that the photo is sharp even though the subject is moving.
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