Category Archives: Portraiture

Easiest Way to Get a Good Shot

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Here is a very simple tip if you want to capture nice photos: find ONE subject and isolate it from everything else. That’s it.

Why do you think that shallow depth-of-field portrait shots look nice? It’s not just because of the creamy/blurry background but because shallow DoF isolates the subject from any background distraction. If the background is simple and non-distracting you do not need shallow DoF to get a good portrait shot. Studio shots, where the photographer has full control of the environment, are normally shot at f/5.6 or f/8 or even f/16 because the subject is already isolated.

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The main reason why n00bish shots look crap is because beginners tend to cram everything into the frame. This one goes especially to the n00b landscape photographers who would sell their kidneys just to get the widest lens possible. They want it ultra-mega-wide so they could include EVERYTHING in the frame. That’s the quickest way to get a crappy shot. STOP.

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Find a subject that you like and have a really good look at it then ask yourself: what is it with this subject that I really like? Is it the entire subject or just some parts of it? Is it because the subject is in a particular environment? If you can’t answer those simple questions then your shot will look crap.

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Once you find your subject, concentrate on it. Isolate it from everything. You may have to zoom in or get closer to your target. Do everything you can to single out the subject then take the shot. Now check your LCD and assess if you like your framing. If you think that it’s too empty or too simple then find something that will complement the subject. Zoom out or get into a different angle. Just make sure, when you do want to include more elements in the frame, that they will enhance the subject and NOT conflict with it.

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So again, the quickest way to get a nice shot is to pick ONE subject and make sure that nothing else is in the frame. Go out and try it. You’ll thank me.

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Child Pornography

This father decided to capture nude photos of his daughter and posted them in the internet. A lot of concerned netizens voiced out their strong opposition against this stupid act and so to prove them wrong, this same father decided to create a gallery exhibit. More info here:

http://petapixel.com/2014/08/22/photographer-accused-of-posting-pornographic-photos-of-his-3-year-old-heres-how-he-responded/

Sorry fucktard but you are a pervert.

There is a VERY BIG DIFFERENCE between capturing CANDID shots and capturing STAGED shots of your innocent NUDE daughter.

Children generally do not care about being nude in front of the public. They do not know of the implications. They are unaware of a lot of things about their bodies. They do not care if they are fat or thin or tall or short. They just don’t care. Let me spell that out: they do not know that their bodies can be used for pleasure. That’s the innocence of a child.

What you just did has corrupted the innocence of your daughter. By stripping her naked and making her pose in front of a camera, you are making her aware that there is something in her nude body that is potentially “interesting”. Interesting not to herself but to YOU, asshole. You need not brainwash a child to appreciate her body. She doesn’t have to. She doesn’t fucking care. But YOU do and you should. It is your duty to protect that innocence. What you did was feed your daughter to other perverts who are possibly worse than you. How many child molesters do you think now have copies of your daughter’s nude photos?

So there!

Having said that, I couldn’t help but compare this act when performed on an adult. It’s the exact opposite. If you shoot a naked adult, who is unaware of your presence, then you have invaded her privacy. Shooting a nude adult who is willing to pose in front of the lens is fair game; she has your full consent.

Know the difference.

You deserved the wrath of the internet.

The Shallow Depth of Field Challenge

A common question thrown around by new photographers is whether they can get that professional-looking shots of people where the background is blurred using only their small cameras. Last night, I challenged myself to produce this shallow depth of field effect using only my m43 camera and kit lens. This challenge was brought about by proponents of full frame cameras who claim that the smallish sensors of m43 cameras are not good enough when it comes to achieving this creamy background blur.

And so I took some photos indoors using a toy as my subject. Is the m43 up for the challenge? Let’s find out:

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I think it’s more than good enough 🙂

Update: The “Impressionist” Challenge

Not really sure what that means but from the sample shots that have been provided to me it looks like make sure that “almost nothing is in focus” kind of shot.

So here it is completely unedited straight from the camera with a kit lens:

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Not sure if my shot makes sense here but I’m getting the “impression” that this is what impressionist means. 🙂

No,  I won’t even post that in my gallery. It’s just a sample of what can be done by a small camera and a kit lens.

Landscape Photography Appreciation #2

Welcome to the second part of this series. In this post I hope to cover some of the differences between landscape photography and portraiture.

Why portraiture? I have joined all sorts of photogaphy groups and forums and noticed that amateur photographers are usually divided into two groups: landscape and portraiture. Very few people are exclusively into macro or sports or street and if you want to meet them you will probably have to join specialized groups. And besides, if you are still a beginner you probably should avoid doing those other types of photography because they may slow down your progress, or worse, force you to develop bad habits (stop shooting flowers).

Another general observation is that landscape photographers usually suck at portraiture and portrait photographers usually suck at landscape. It is a rare combination to find a photographer who is an expert in both. I have done a fair amount of model photoshoot sessions and all I can say is that it is very very tiring. 🙂

Anyway, let’s move on and discuss the major differences between these two areas of photography. Treat the rest of this post as “landscape photography for portrait photographers”. I will try to use my own portrait shots as examples on how you might use landscape photography techniques in portraiture to ease the transition. Please be mindful that I am not a portrait photographer so the examples may not be in the level you expected.

LIGHT. Portrait photographers need not wake up at 3AM or stay up until midnight to capture the right amount of light (or the lack of it). In landscape photography, you are at the mercy of mother nature to provide you with that magical ingredient. While portrait photographers rejoice at the sight of a grey, flat, gloomy day, landscape photographers would rather go through their old photos hoping to find something worthy of editing. Flat light is bad light but portrait togs love it because that allows them to shape it using artificial lights. Even extreme hard light is fair game for portraiture because they could diffuse it over a relatively small area or balance it with reflectors.

Portraiture can even do the extremes and still achieve acceptable output (don’t even try this with landscapes):

Blown highlights don’t matter in a lot of cases and sometimes they are intentional:


Even extreme contrast is fair game:


Unfortunately, control of light is something that can’t be done in landscape. Portrait photographers who venture into unplanned trips will come home with photos that suck. If you are not willing enough to be on location at least an hour before sunrise or an hour after sunset then don’t even try landscape. Simple as that.

COMPOSITION. Do not put your subject dead center in the frame unless you have a good reason to do so. In portraiture, you can safely ignore this rule all your life and still come up with keepers and maybe a magazine front page or two. Look at the portrait shots of Steve McCurry; they are all composed the same way. Look at the shots I posted above. In landscape photography, this is suicide.

You have probably read about the rule of thirds. There’s a good reason why beginners learn about this rule first. It’s not just about blindly following this “rule” but understanding how it works and where it applies.

Here’s the rule in action:


And here’s how you break it:


In fact, that last shot breaks a lot of rules such as “avoid clutter and simplify”, use a powerful and distinct foreground, use lead-in lines to create an illusion of depth and so on. What other rules can you think of?

It is quite obvious when rules are being followed without understanding why. There was this shot posted in our group by a portrait photographer where she tried to capture a sunset. Mind you that she is an experienced portrait photographer and I am a fan of her work. Anyway, she used the rule of thirds by having the horizon placed on the lower third and the sun positioned a third of the way from the left side of the frame. I do not have permission to use her photo but essentially, it looked like this (the colours I have chosen portray the relative luminance of the entire scene)


Perfect rule of thirds! But the shot is very poor and she knows it. Aside from other “mistakes” such as the underexposed and empty foreground and boring sky, what’s wrong with having the sun at the center? Why place it along the leftmost third? Instead of using the simplicity and balance of symmetry, the rule of thirds has rendered her shot into an awkward composition. Compare it with this shot for example:


Now if I can have a mermaid sitting on one of those rocks then I would have the perfect portrait shot 🙂

DEPTH OF FIELD. In landscape photography we strive to have everything in focus. From the nearest object up to the farthest background, it is essential that they are all in sharp focus. Therefore, it is critical that every element in the frame must work together to create a harmonious whole. The subject must be prominent and obvious. Anything that does not contribute to the image must be removed during capture. Simplification is key. Clutter is a mortal sin.

In portraiture, it is very easy to isolate the subject. Just use a mid telephoto lens and open up the aperture to blur the background. That’s it! Of course it quickly becomes very boring if all your shots are like this but people keep doing exactly the same thing. The problem here is that they do not learn how to compose a shot and it shows when they attempt to shoot landscapes where the whole frame looks very cluttered or empty. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: those who rely on background blur do not know or will never learn to compose a shot.

When taking photos of people, try to use the background instead of just rendering it as a big blob of incomprehensible blur:


By doing so, your transition into landscape photography becomes easier while at the same time it adds interestingness to your shots.

FOCUSING In portraiture, you are advised to always focus on the eyes. If you can only focus on one of them because your chosen DoF is too shallow then target the nearest eye. This is usually performed using advanced autofocus mechanisms in the camera and lens. A lot of beginners complain about how their cameras can’t keep track when using continuous AF. They blame their gear for not being able to properly execute the ultra shallow DoF cliche at f1.4.

You will be delighted that in landscape photography you can get away with even full manual focus. In fact, manual hyperfocusing technique is highly recommended and is superior in every way compared to AF. Learn how to hyperfocus in this tutorial.

I believe that these are a few of the most important differences between landscape and portrait photography. Learn them by heart if you want to widen your horizon. I, on the other hand, will try to learn more about portraiture because I do suck at it LOL!!!

N00bism #1

In the next few blog posts I will try to cover some of the most common newbie mistakes that even a lot of experienced photographers fall into. I expect that not everyone will agree with my observations and opinions but I hope these posts will make you seriously think about what you are doing.

So numero uno (#1) in this list is ULTRA SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD.

Most newcomers to DSLR photography have this wild obsession on shallow depth-of- field. It’s quite understandable because point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras have very small sensors such that everything from the foreground to infinity are in focus all the time. They don’t want that anymore. Those everything-is-in-focus shots look very amateurish. They want their subjects to “pop” and look pro. It won’t be long before they learn new terminologies such as “bokeh” and “fast lens”, and start the endless craving for expensive, heavy, wide aperture telephotos.

Those who have the money are the first ones to post portrait shots where only the eyes are in focus, the nose blurry and the ears barely recognizable. Their 85/1.2 lens has made the human subject look like a puppy with ears folded back waiting for a good pat on the head. I mean, come on…why the heck did you even waste your time looking for a “nice location” for the photoshoot when the background in all your shots all look like a big blob of blurry mess?!!! You might as well cut and paste your subject into a pre-made wallpaper image. The conflicting ideas are just too funny: they want a nice location but aim to blur everything except the subject.

Look at how real pros do it. Watch them use the background to complement their subjects. Good backgrounds add context to the image. They shoot at f5.6 or f8 and some even shoot at f16. If they do have to shoot at f2.8 they would normally step all the way back to achieve enough DoF.

And it’s not just with portraiture. Macro n00bs do this as well. The lenses focus very close to their subjects and they shoot at 2.8 such that they can’t even get one eye in focus. Stop down to f16 or f22 for Pete’s sake.

I haven’t stressed this one enough but I have always thought that reliance on ultra shallow DoF is for those who can’t compose a shot.

I’m not saying that portrait shots with nice blurry background don’t look good. They do and that’s why everyone is doing it, n00bs included. Especially if you are an experienced photographer, if most, if not all, of your shots look like this then what’s separating you from all the newbies?

Think about it.