Just because you don't have an expensive lighting set-up or a studio doesn't mean you can't shoot interesting portraits of your children. To help you out, we've put together a list of quick tips made up of low-cost techniques to help the beginner out.
Smaller, pocketable cameras right up to bigger DSLRs can be used to shoot portraits.
You can even use a less-expensive toy camera which may produce low-quality images but the levels of saturation and strong vignetting some produce can create interesting effects. As the shot below, taken with a VistaQuest VQ1015 camera, demonstrates:
I Don't Have A Lighting Kit
Commercial photographers, such as those who shoot in schools, tend to use lighting they can move and position around a room, making flash less harsh when fired. If you're working with a camera that has a built-in flash, however, you don't have this luxury and if you hit the shutter with the flash switched on, the light from it tends to be too harsh.
So, What Should I Do?
Your best and easiest option is to turn the flash off and use the light around you. This could mean using you household lights but keep an eye on your white balance if you do this as shots tend to look a little warmer and have an orange tone to them when shot under household lights. Easier still, set up near a window or patio door if you have one and use natural light. Side light works well but don't be afraid to experiment with different positions. Shooting with the window to their back so you can shoot straight on, for example, can create silhouettes. Don't overlook shooting on cloudy days either as clouds act as a giant softbox, diffusing light.
A support, ideally a tripod, should be kept in reach for times when your camera needs to use longer shutter speeds due to low light levels. If you try and shoot hand-held it can result in shake which will spoil your shot. You can try setting a slightly higher ISO to increase your camera's shutter speed but with some cameras, this can result in noise appearing in your shots. This isn't always a bad thing though as you could try enhancing the noise further so it appears like old film grain, similar to this shot below:
What Time Is Best?
The time of day and where your window is positioned will effect light falling through it. At this time of year the sun is quite low in the sky for most of the day, however, midday is still when the sun is at its highest so avoid shooting then if possible. The golden hours, early morning and early evening, tend to give you softer light but you can further diffuse light with tissue paper, or a thin curtain / piece of material. If you do this, try to avoid using coloured material / paper as this can create a colour cast in your images.
Of course, if shooting indoors isn't producing the results you're looking for, there's always the option to get outside, shooting in your garden or at your local park.
Backgrounds Are Distracting
Professional photographers use purpose made background rolls are frames on stands but when you're on a budget and working at home, you don't have this luxury.
Shooting at home can mean you have backgrounds full of clutter or distracting wallpaper, even if you do use a larger aperture (or portrait mode on a compact that tells the camera you want to use a larger aperture) to throw it out of focus. To fix this, have a look around your home for items you can use as backgrounds. Black velvet works well, so do plain sheets of material or use a plain wall if you have one.
Have A Conversation
Most of the time the 'say cheese' approach won't work as you'll just get shots with big grins and squinting eyes. Instead, try talking to the children you're photographing, asking them questions and making them laugh. As a result, you'll soon see them creating expressions and poses that are much more interesting. Try setting your camera on continuous shooting mode to increase your chances of capturing a creative shot. This mode, which is available on many cameras will let you take a burst of images in quick succession which you can then pick out the best from.
Don't think your subject has to always be slap-bang in the middle of your frame. By positioning them slightly off centre you'll create a much more striking composition.
If you want to try photographing your subject so they are looking out of frame do leave some 'looking space' as it creates a more pleasing shot and your subject won't look like they're squashed into a small frame.
My Shot's Too Dark Or Light
If you're shooting on auto and find the balance of highlights and shadows isn't right there are a few things you can do to correct it. If the face is too washed out set a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture. This could mean switching to sports mode if your compact has one so it knows you want to use a quicker shutter speed. If the detail is too dark set a slower shutter speed or wider aperture.
If your camera has exposure compensation, check your manual if you're unsure, set it to -1 or -2 for shots that are washed out and +1 or +2 for shots that are too dark.
There are a few free pieces of editing software available such as Gimp or you could purchase Photoshop Elements which isn't quite as expensive as the CS range. Cropping, playing with tools such as Dodge & Burn, adding vignettes and turning shots to black & white are all things you can do during post production to enhance images. Take a look at ePHOTOzine's technique section for more tips and tutorial on this subject.
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