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Shoot summer portraits

Shoot summer portraits - Should summer deign to show its rosy cheeks again you might be tempted to rush out, camera in hand, to capture that warmth in your portraits but, as Duncan Evans explains, bright sunshine brings specific problems.

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Portraits and People

When warm weather arrives, the budding portrait photographer will eye up the sunshine, gently waving fields of grass, the soft, hay-filled meadows and tinkling brooks and babbling streams, and think bingo, instant backdrops. The countryside in the summer offers a greener, more relaxed and pleasant palette and environment to shoot portraits in than the city. However, that bright, sunny light that dragged you out of the house in the first place will cause your subject to squint if facing it, have deep, ugly shadows if side on, and be in shadow if backlit. On top of that, the contrast range from bright light to shadow is so great that no digital camera can capture it. Problems then, but not insurmountable ones if you follow the ePHOTOzine guide to shooting summer portraits. The very first point then, is that the subject has to avoid facing the sun to avoid the squinting problem. So, side on and with the sun behind or covered, are the initial positions to adopt.


 Grassy bank
Relaxing on a grassy bank, with a gushing stream disappearing under a bridge in the background. Photoshop was used to enhance the mood of this shot.


The language of the countryside is completely different to that of the urban grind, and locating olde worlde villages, bridges over babbling brooks, churches, fields of tall grass, winding country lanes and rural livestock will make for relaxed and pleasant backdrops to your photos. You can either shoot them as straightforward representations of the subjects character, exploiting those features in the photo, or go down the fashion route and demand plenty of attitude.




Churches are always good for backdrops, whether the more spooky element of using the graveyard, or just the features or textures of the building itself.

rural scenes
Inhabitants of the rural idyll are worth including in a shot. Here the subject poses against the fence while a horse grazes in the background. 


Using a long lens to pick your subject out of the surroundings is an effective variation to employ. The longer the lens, the more narrow the field of view, so the more the subject is removed from the scenery around them. There's also another consequence of using a longer lens and that's depth-of-field, which becomes shallower. A standard portrait technique is to use a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus but if you are using a short zoom kit lens you may be lumbered with f/4 at 50mm. Stand further back, use a 200mm lens, at f/4 or f/5.6 and the depth-of-field will be much shallower, knocking out the background.

 telephoto shot
Here a 200mm focal length has been used to zoom in on the subject stood on a bridge, surrounded by the branches of trees.

close up shot
By using 95mm and getting closer, the field-of-view is wider, showing more of the subject - now it is clearly a bridge she is stood on.

 using flash
Under the cover of overhanging trees in this church graveyard, some flash was required to lift the subject out of the gloom.


The advantage of shooting under a canopy of trees is that it keeps the bright light off your subject so they don't squint in it. This can be extended to country lanes where the advantages are twofold - if it's a small lane, it's likely to be quiet so you won't be disturbed by passers-by, and secondly, it provides depth to the photo by disappearing off into the background. The disadvantage is that the overhang of trees can make the smaller lane quite gloomy, or it can filter the bright light and make it ideal - it depends on the lane and the overhanging greenery. Your choice is then to shoot with a wide aperture, or to employ some fill-flash or direct flash to brighten the subject up.





 enclosed spaces
Natural light in a narrow lane is used to light the subject, while the track disappears off into the background. Shot using an aperture of f/4.

flash in country lanes
Flash has been used to brighten the subject up in the same surroundings as the previous shot, with the result that she stands out.

Using standard zone metering with a backlit subject, where the sun or bright sky is behind them, will invariably fool the metering into underexposing the subject. Normally, flash is used to try to balance the exposure, as explained in the next section, but there is an alternative and that is to meter from the subject and let the background overexpose. Ensure that the shot is close enough so that the subject dominates the frame, then the background simply looks light and airy. It can look more natural and will be more subtle than using flash. Use centre-weighted or spot metering with exposure compensation of around +1EV, otherwise the skin tones won't be bright enough. It's worth experimenting because the brightness level can obviously vary. The alternative is to use metering for the subject, when the general light is low. This ensures that the subject is bright and it reduces the shadows on their face, if the lighting source is behind the subject.

 using centre-weighted metering
With metering for the subject, the background sky has burnt out, but this gives the photo a very light appearance.

dark places
Shot in a gloomy country lane, the exposure has been set for the subject so she is bright. 


It may seem strange to talk of using flash when the it's bright and sunny, but flash is extremely useful in such circumstances, being able to balance exposures and fill in shadows. Flashguns give out a burst of very bright light in a very short time, usually much shorter than the overall exposure, and because of that, their output is calculated in terms of what aperture setting you need to correctly expose a photograph using it. All flashguns have a Guide Number, which is a guide to the power output. If you divide the Guide Number by the distance the subject is from the flash, you get the aperture setting to use on the camera, if setting it manually.

The distance of the subject from the flashgun meant an aperture of f/11 was used. The flashgun could only synch at up to 1/250sec so the sky, which was much brighter, has burnt out.

The solution in these circumstances is to focus in close to the subject and exclude the sky from the photo.

Quite what you can do with flash all depends on the flashgun being employed and the facilities it offers, and how your camera uses it. The most basic decision is whether to use a flashgun that operates by TTL (Through-The-Lens flash metering) or manual. If using the flash in manual you can create combined exposures of flash and background light, and increase the camera aperture or reduce the power so that the flash acts as a fill-in flash. Getting distances right though, and working out the power, may not be that practical when rushing around on a photoshoot in which case TTL-flash is the way to go. This meters the subject in front of the flash, by the amount of light bouncing back, and turns the flash off when it thinks it has had enough according to the original exposure metering. If the flashgun simply operates in TTL mode, and doesn't offer any adjustment, then that's your lot anyway.

However, some flashguns will allow the power in TTL mode to be modified in thirds of an exposure value - just like using regular exposure compensation. This way the flash can be made brighter to make the subject really stand out, or less powerful so that it just fills in shadows, and doesn't blast the subject with light. The other option is to meter the background light behind the subject and see if the flashgun can create a balanced exposure. Having metered the background light, scale the figures so that you have the fastest synch shutter speed (if the synch speed is something like 1/125sec or 1/250sec) or the maximum aperture given the distance of the subject from the flashgun (if you have a fast-synch system that can synch up to 1/4000sec) then enter the settings in Manual mode on the camera. Focus on the subject and the flash will create a balanced exposure. The limiting factor here is how fast the camera can synch with the gun, because the exposure at, for example, f/11 (the max power of the gun at say 3m) might be 1/1000sec in very bright light and the gun might only synch at up to 1/250sec. At that speed and aperture, the subject will be fine, but the sky will white out.

 cast into shadow
This shot shows you what happens with a backlit subject when flash isn't used. The subject's face is in shadow and the picture looks gloomy.

 use flash
Flash now makes the subject really stand out. Because the sun is off to one side and not behind the subject, the background has been captured as well.


For shots towards evenings, the process is reversed in that it requires the use of a slow-synch mode on the camera. This fires the flash at the selected aperture, then keeps the shutter open for a longer period to record the background light, which is normally quite low. Using this method, evening or sunset flash shots can be created.

 cast into shadow
Again, the sun is behind and to the left of the subject, causing zone metering to underexpose her face and the landscape.

 use flash
With the use of flash the subject and foreground grass are now bright, the colours are punchy, and she stands out against the background.


 Thanks to model, Rachael Goodall. You can contact her on funkstarach@hotmail.com or see more at http://Razza.net-model.com.



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Very interesting too read and to see the difference....thank you

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