Improving Portrait Photography-Keeping Shoulders and Hands From Taking Over

Avoid letting your shoulders take over your portrait by changing how you frame the shot. I'll show you some examples so you know what I'm talking about .One way to get a better picture is to keep your shirt on … except it’s 900 degrees outside and you can’t handle wearing sleeves. This is all about the photographer, not the camera. Here's the scene. Awesome hot rod project car at a car show, and the proud owner is styling a 50s dancing dress to complement her car: As you can see, it was a really flat grey day, not a lot of light. Actually, grey days are great for portraits, it's like living in a giant softbox. Much easier on the camera than the heavy contrast of bright sunshine.
Environmental portrait of 50s panel wagon hotrod with the driver in a 50s polkadot dancing dress

Car show cutie

This is the closeup I did. It was a dim and grey day with a really flat sky, no cloud detail at all. Not only that, the inside of the wagon was super dark and unfinished, and I didn’t have an assistant or a reflector to pull in any light. This is where I made a mistake in my framing.
Closeup Portait in car

Closeup that I'd like to have framed differently

When you look at this picture the biggest light spot is not her face, it’s her shoulder. Not only is it closest to the camera (which makes it bigger), it’s lighter in color than her face, so it sort of takes over the whole shot.

In graphic design, the focal point is the place where the eye rests first and longest. Usually it's the lightest or brightest part of the design. In portrait photography usually you want the focal point to be the face, particularly the eyes.

In this case, her upper arm became a big old flat blank spot. It would have been a better choice to change my angle, avoiding having the upper arm take over the frame. Cropping it square improves things a little bit. Cropping is your friend.
square crop to improve portrait

Cropped, although the shoulder is still the same size as the face.

Most of us realize that standing sideways to the camera presents a smaller target. But sometimes we get a little too sideways, and end up looking directly over our shoulder, which isn’t  flattering. On top of that, sometimes we get self conscious, and bad things happen when we’re sucking our gut in and not breathing. Necks look shorter because we pull our shoulders up to hold our breath. Think tall and relaxed, not suck in suck in suck in I can't breathe take the picture already..... Another potential problem is having your hands up next to your face. Sometimes we try to cover a double chin by putting our chin on our fist for camouflage. Just be careful not to have the back of your fist facing the camera. Here’s an example:
The backs of hands are also the same size as the face.

The backs of hands are also the same size as the face, and distracting

The back of your hand is just about as big as your face. For most people, that is. That’s why, if you choose to do an Uncle Rico pose from Napoleon Dynamite you should turn the hand sideways, not facing the flat side of the fist toward the camera. But don’t do an Uncle Rico. Unless you really want to. Intentionally. As a joke…. Because people will laugh anyway.

How to Get It Right

So finally, here’s an example of how to take a good portrait when your model has a sleeveless top on. It was 100 degrees out in August when we did her senior pictures, but I framed it in such a way that her shoulders didn’t take over, and the focus was on her pretty face. Because we were in the shade I had an assistant holding a white reflector to the model’s right to add some gentle light into the shot. Notice she is standing at a slight angle, but not looking over her shoulder sideways. She's at more of a 30 to 45 degree angle to the camera, with her head turned slightly, which elongates the neck.
well-framed senior portrait in sleeveless top

Notice I've cut the shoulder out of the frame, centering the attention on her face.

There's a good DIY profile picture tips article I wrote at the Adult Like A Boss website if you'd like to learn a little more about basic portrait tips. I'll cover things in a bit more detail here, as it's all about the camera, right? So, if you want your portraits to pop make the face the center of attention. If the subject has a sleeveless top on, don't let the upper arm or their hands take too much visual space in the framing and you'll see a real improvement in your portraiture. Happy shooting! Cheryl

Wiki Loves Monuments Contest

Until the end of this month Wiki is running a contest inviting people to submit photos of local monuments here in the US. Here's the link: Wiki Loves Monuments. There will be cash prizes and winners will be automatically submitted to the international competition. They're also encouraging people to do research and contribute to articles. Sounds like a great homeschool project to me! Honestly, sometimes the pictures I see submitted on wiki articles are dreadful and inaccurate, so this is a great way to up the ante. Yay, Wiki! If you do submit pictures, or your kids do, I'd love to hear about it and see them! Either comment here, or email me.

Cats Are Easier Than Web Programming

You just take the plastic off the box. That's all you do. Remove the Gatorade label, the cat is happy, life goes on. Unlike web design. I spent I don't know how many hours today restoring the back up of this site.... I finally called tech support, after fiddling and diddling because I'm bullheaded like that. Picture a 3 year old dressing herself. I can do it mySELF! Yeah, well, I did ok. The thing that was entirely holding me back was 5 files in the wrong place, 3 of which had extra extensions from the backup (HEY! Pay ATTENTION! I see your eyes glazing!) so I had to rename them, removing wp-content-_____ and move them. TADA! I have finally learned that calling tech support is not a sin, venal or mortal. So anyway, I'm back shooting again. I was on Lyrica for a couple of years or so, and one of the <insert sarcasm tag here> awesome side effects </sarcasm off> is a loss of balance and shaking hands. I cried, and put the cameras down. It broke my heart. I have no joy in shooting with a tripod. Anyway, I gave up on the drug when I saw a friend using a cane and leaning in the breeze like a drunken sailor... I thought, do I look like that? I don't pretend to be the greatest photographer in the world, and I sure don't have the latest equipment, but that's your advantage because you probably don't either and you just may be tired of being talked down to. Here I am. If you don't know something, ask, email privately if you like and want to be anonymous and I'll do my best to answer you or point you in a good direction. Let's have some fun together, at any rate. That's what art is, right? Now I better get the plastic off the box.
Glowing cat eyes peering into my soul.

Remove plaztik, hooman. I need box time.


Heartbreak and Healing

My son Levi took this from an access road on the opposite hillside on March 24th. He had to actually photograph a series of shots to get the whole thing in.

My son Levi took this from an access road on the opposite hillside on March 24th. He had to actually photograph a series of shots to get the whole thing in.

As many of you know, everything in the Stillaguamish valley changed dramatically on March 22, 2014. Under all that mud was a neighborhood, a community. Kids with bikes and balls, pets, homes. Every person I know in the area was somehow touched by that tragedy. They all knew someone who was lost or were related to someone who was lost. There were those that suddenly found that there was a 2 hour addition to their commute in each direction morning and night. Some people stayed what we call "down below" either with friends or sheltered by FEMA, etc. Some of them don't see their families for days at a time. There were those that lost everything they owned, except their mortgage in some cases. There are those that are still dealing with fears both up and downstream of the slide from flooding or a sudden breakthrough of the dammed river washing away their homes. My heart aches and my throat closes just thinking about it.
his is the western edge of the slide. You can see a white house across the river that was just missed.

This is the western edge of the slide. You can see a white house across the river that was just missed.

There was a flipside to those losses, and that is the incredible bravery and stamina of those that have put their own lives at risk in the rescue work, and the tireless work of those who supported them. Those people saw things no one should have to see. They found our dead, and every time they did and the helicopter would come to lift the bodies away all work would stop and everyone watched them go. The respect and love shown to the victims really honors us all.
2nd shot, still toward the western edge heading to the middle. The humps are debris under the mud, including homes.

2nd shot, still toward the western edge heading to the middle. The humps are debris under the mud, including homes.

There were the the people in charge who handled logistics, made decisions, took the brunt of the press and dealing with a lot of grieving folks. Thanks for your sleepless nights and the courage to make difficult choices. The local business people that worked so hard to keep up with demands, contributed funds and goods to help the locals were outstanding. Our largest local employer, Hampton Lumber, was absolutely stellar about letting the guys off work to take part in the rescue effort or be with their families and friends. They've been hush hush about their contributions to the victims and their families. They're not in it for publicity, like some companies would be. I admire that. Then there were men and women that came from all over to help. I saw trucks from the San Juan islands, Skagit county, Marysville, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Stanwood, even an airboat from Orange, Texas. I know I'm forgetting a lot of them. It was a blur. They came and covered shifts so the locals could continue the search.
The center toward the east.

The center toward the east.

No one will ever forget those awesome women who fed everyone. I've never seen so many cookies and goodies in one place in my life as I did at the community center! There were those that contributed to our community's needs out of the kindness of their hearts, those who were inspired to put together their own 'relief convoys' and brought truckload after truckload of food for both people and animals, including livestock. Above all I kept hearing over and over again from those who live outside of our community, like the press, that they just had a hard time believing that such a community spirit still exists in this day and age. I had one reporter tell me that it reminded him of his hometown in Texas, that he could tell the roots of the community are southern. 🙂 His photographer didn't know what to make of it. She said "All these ladies just kept asking me what I wanted to eat, if I'd eaten, here honey, have a bite to eat you look hungry..." LOL I saw so many people hugging each other, everyone was comforting someone somehow, and even those who had suffered great losses of their own were doing their best to comfort others. It really shows that there are still good people out there, kind people, if you look for them and give them the chance to shine.
The eastern edge of the slide, towards Hazel, and the beginning of the ponding from the river being dammed.

The eastern edge of the slide, towards Hazel, and the beginning of the ponding from the river being dammed.

One thing I kept hearing over and over again on various news shows was 'it was an act of God' or 'God took him' and I just want to share what gave me some comfort from the bible about that idea. In the bible in the book of Ecclesiastes at chapter 9, verse 11 it says
“The swift do not always win the race, nor do the mighty win the battle, nor do the wise always have the food, nor do the intelligent always have the riches, nor do those with knowledge always have success, because time and unexpected events overtake them all.”
In other words, bad things happen. Unfair things happen. It's not God's fault, it just happens. We're all familiar with the scripture at John 3:16 where Jesus said "“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life." A God of love doesn't kill people or allow their deaths because 'he needed another angel'. No. Another scripture, James 1:13,  says this:
"When under trial let no one say, 'I am being tried by God.' For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone."
The bible explains clearly why God has allowed people to suffer this long, and that he is going to undo all the bad that has happened very soon. Revelation 21:3-4 will come true.
"With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them.  And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
These bad times, the "former things,"  will pass, God promises it, and he never lies. This article explains God's promises in the bible about when natural disasters will be a thing of the past earth wide. I hope it brings you as much comfort as it did me. Most of all, though, I just want to say Thank You to everyone who took it upon themselves to get involved, to show kindness to those who had lost so much. Thank you. Cheryl

Don’t Take Chances- Take Multiple Shots

What is continuous shooting mode, and why should you always keep your camera set there? Because taking just one shot is a recipe for disaster. Why? I was recently watching a photographer shooting an event and I noticed something that really concerned me. There were several group shots, and as each group was assembled the photographer went 'click' one time, and then the groups moved on and the next one assembled. One click... Yikes. That's leaving a lot to chance. Sure enough, when the proofs came back, the family pictures left something to be desired. Not only were they distorted by a bad choice in focal length, but there were several awkward poses. How many times have you taken a picture of a group and everyone's eyes and attention were where they were supposed to be? There's the guy flirting with someone across the room, eyes-closed kid, the idiot who thinks he's hilarious flipping off the camera or doing bunny ears behind someone else's head, the blur, or cousin Dwight with his finger up his nose, again. And then there are your mistakes. Can a photographer always catch all the details by chimping? No. The 3 inch view screen on the back of the camera can really fool you. I've thought 'got it' when I was feeling rushed and it never ever fails that when I get home and get the pictures uploaded that I have a serious heart-sinking oh-no moment when I see the details I missed, like someone just slightly out of focus. Sigh. Don't get in a hurry! Take. More. Than. One. Picture.

Always use the 'continuous shooting' mode when taking pictures.

Whether they're group shots, action shots, or still portraits. Most digital cameras have this capability now, even phones. The camera won't take multiple pictures every time you hit the shutter button if you have a light touch (you do, right?) but when you want more you can. I just leave my camera set there, because there is never enough time to switch when you're in the moment. Machine gunning exposures like paparazzi can catch the fleeting expressions of a child or pet, or just get a shot of a group with everyone's eyes open and no one's tongue out or finger up. There's also a psych factor. Once people hear the first click of the camera they tend to relax, and you get some nice natural expressions for portraits. Sometimes the second or third picture in a series will be less blurry if you tend to have shaky hands or are in low light. You may also get some unexpected expressions in shooting a series, like my son channeling his inner Grumpy Cat. The whole point is to make things easier on yourself, and to catch the memories you want. If I wouldn't have been on 'continuous shooting' I never would have caught this expression, have the fun of teasing him about it, or have my younger son tell me, "Yeah, that's how he looks when he's really going to throw it hard. I always know I'd better brace myself when I see that face." Have fun, catch the moment. Cheryl