DIY Senior Portraits

It’s Autumn once again, and for many parents and photographers it means senior portrait season. 

There are many photographers to choose from these days, when it comes to creating portraiture, but what if you would like to attempt it yourself? In this day and age you have the tools to do it, even if you use your smartphone camera. All you would need to provide would be your own artistic touch, but there are a few tricks to learn and remember that could help your success. 

The first thing to keep in mind is composition. As in all forms of visual art a strong and creative composition is imperative. A photo can be technically imperfect, but if the subject is interesting and the composition is strong then the photo will still be effective. Remembering the basics of composition, especially the Rule of Thirds will help to create that perfect composition. Avoid centering your subject or having them stand facing directly at the camera. Turn their body in one direction and have them turn their head toward the camera for instance. Take some time to research poses before your go out with your subject. 

Find an interesting location. The location should not be a part of the subject of the photo, but should enhance the experience of the moment that you’re capturing. Places such as a garden or a park with landscaping or features such as rock walls, interesting buildings or trees. Allow your subject to be a part of the scene. Have them lean against or stand in front of the feature. It’s Autumn so many times a location with some beautiful Falls leaves will be a great backdrop, especially if the leaves are illuminated by warm morning or afternoon light from behind. 

Second only to composition in importance is lighting. Portraiture can be created outdoors in natural light without external lighting in certain situations. Try to find filtered light or a shady spot for even tones. I try to avoid direct sunlight on my subjects. This can be done by standing in a shaded area or by blocking the light with a piece of cardboard or matboard. If the subject is too dark in the area that you choose then either a soft flash or a reflector to direct ambient light onto the subject can illuminate them. You can use a simple piece of white matboard, or something similar, to reflect indirect sunlight onto your subject. This method also works well when the subject is backlit.  

Choosing a camera is less important these days, especially considering the resolution that modern smartphones possess. It’s completely practical to use a smartphone for your photos. Todays phones are capable of taking excellent images and there are apps that will allow you to artfully edit the photos. The only limitation may be the size of which that you’re capable of printing the photos, but in most all cases it’s not an issue. Most smartphones are able to allow you to set certain settings manually and to save the image as a raw file which enables the photo to be edited more extensively, including creating a shallow depth of field to blur the background. The phone app will also give you editing options for your photos. Take out your phone and give it a whirl. 

If you own a digital single lens reflex camera, or a similar solid body camera, with interchangeable lenses, make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough so as not to have any kind of motion blur from movement of your hand or the subject. An open aperture, smaller f/stop number will help by allowing more light into the camera while also creating a shallow depth of field, blurring the background while keeping the subject sharp. This will also help to separate your subject from the background.

Post processing, or developing, your photos can be fairly easy with some of the apps for smartphones or programs for desktop computers that are available. Many are similar to Instagram filters where you have a list of effects that you can click on to preview to see what your photo would look like. Just click until you find one that works or is close, you can do find tuning in most cases, and then save the high resolution file. 

But of course in most cases there’s no substitute for a professional with experience in working with composition and light who uses professional level equipment. But if you’re wanting to try it yourself first, go for it. What do you have to lose but a little time? It’s fun to photograph your children or your grandchildren and will give you some quality time with them, and you’ll gain some valuable photography experience and, perhaps, some beautiful senior portraits. 

Glacier National Park 2020

Grinnell Point at Swiftcurrent Lake

Well, I finally made it back to Glacier National Park. This time with my good friend Chris Byrne. Chris was conducting a workshop and had a great group with him. I was glad to tag along.

The last time that I went to Glacier I was confronted with cold weather ,snow and ice. I remember camping at Two Medicine Lake on my last day there and getting frozen inside of my Jeep during the night. I woke up to about a 1/2 of an inch of ice covering the whole Jeep. I couldn’t see any mountains so I headed back home early.

This time I was met with some pretty epic conditions. We had two incredible sunrises at Swiftcurrent Creek. Travelling from one side of the park to the other via the Going To the Sun Road is always epic, but the skies were so atmospheric. Probably due to the winds at the beginning of the trip kicking up glacial dust into the air.

In all we had seven days to play in this incredible place. Photographing lakes, creeks, waterfalls, amazing mountain peaks as well as wildlife such as moose, deer and even a grizzly bear.

It will be hard to beat this trip, but I can’t wait to return to Montana.

The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way over Mount Hood

The Milky way over Mount Hood Oregon.

There once was a time when I would stay up for several nights in a row and had no stories worth telling. These days I stay up for one night and have a wonderful story that I could tell.

I could tell about enjoying this warm, calm dark Summer night with a sky full of stars and a snow capped mountain so close it seems as if you can reach out to touch it, with the Milky way above it like a feathery plume from a hat, and then coming home with a photograph that needs no description.

I have so many wonderful stories that I could tell, and so many photos that need no words.

Click Here – https://gary-randall.com/product/mount-hood-milky-way-night/

Working Through Creative Slumps

Nature Photographers Network

My latest blog post at my favorite Photography website, Nature Photographers Network.

In a creative slump? Perhaps you’re experiencing some discouragement because it seems like everyone else is creating brilliance, but your own worst critic, yourself, is telling you that your work is junk. Maybe you feel that you’re just not progressing as fast in your skill as you think you should. I’m here to tell you that it’s natural. We all get into a slump now and then. We have our good days and bad days. Sometimes we feel inspired and encouraged while on other days we feel uninspired and ready to take up another hobby like cultivating moss.

Click the link below to read more…

https://naturephotographers.network/articles/working-through-creative-slumps/

Your The Camera’s Aperture Affects your Focus

Single Exposure using my focus technique

We’re focusing on focusing this month. How do I focus my photos is one of the most asked questions of me by other photographers. It’s a great question, and one that one would think would be pretty basic and simple. It’s usually the last skill that a beginning photographer considers when starting out but seems to be the toughest to master. I mean it seems that it would be pretty basic, what with the sophistication of the Auto Focus features in modern digital cameras, but once one takes a few photos and is let down by the Auto Focus Mode it’s easy to see why in many cases, especially landscape and portraiture, you will want to manually focus your photo.

There are several things that will affect the focus or clarity of our photos including a completely out of focus image, one where the focus is so far off that nothing is clear or in focus. That issue is obvious, of course, so we won’t discuss this in depth. We will assume that we are focusing but want to refine the clarity and focus of the shot. I’m going to try to proceed without citing mathematics or terms and theories such as Hyperfocal Distance, Circle of Confusion etc. The purpose of this article is to just understand the basics enough to understand how to overcome a common problem with focusing. Trust that this could become so lengthy that it would require another ten pages of the Mountain Times to cover it. Sometimes when someone is learning something new more information beyond what it takes to understand the concept causes confusion and discouragement. Once the basics are learned the understanding can be broadened in the future. I always tell people that if it requires mathematics to take photos I’d be a C-Minus photographer.

First let’s consider blurring caused by the camera moving or objects in the scene moving. This is not a focus issue but it can affect the clarity and areas of focus in the photo as you affect it. If movement is causing problems then your shutter speed is too slow. You’ll need to make sure that your shutter speed is sufficiently fast to freeze the movement. There are times where a slow shutter blur effect is desirable such as in creeks or waterfalls. This typically requires one to make an aperture adjustment to vary the shutter speed. Opened more to make it quicker and closed more to make it slower, but the depth of field will change with each aperture change.

So what’s this depth of field of which you speak you ask? The depth of field is how deep the area that will be in focus is from front to back. The wider your aperture the shallower or narrower your depth of field will be and then when you stop down, or close the aperture down, the depth of field becomes deeper. Remember that the larger the aperture opening the smaller the f/stop number and the smaller the aperture opening is the larger the f/stop number. Something to consider when you’re trying to maximize your focus is that the closer you are to the subject or foreground narrower your depth of field will be as well. If you’re having trouble getting everything in the scene within acceptable focus stand back a little. The same with portraiture. If you’re shooting with a wide aperture to blur the background intentionally you may have trouble getting the person’s whole face in focus. There’s not a lot worse in portrait photography than having the eyes in focus but the nose out of focus or vice-versa. Either stop down (close down the aperture) or stand back a little further or both. This works best with a zoom lens so you can recompose as you move away.

Hyperfocal Distance – I know. I said that I was going to try not to mention this but I think that curiosity will eventually lead a photographer to wonder. Simply and basically, the hyperfocal distance is the point where you will focus to allow everything from the foreground to the background to be in “acceptable focus”.

There’s a mystical mathematical formula to determine what that the hyperfocal distance is, but if you remember this advice you will get by like I have been for a long time without taking a calculator into the field with me. Here goes – I remember that I want to be in my lens’s sweet spot, which is the upper and lower limit of the aperture’s clearest settings. Each lens is different but the average lens is approximately f/8 to f/14. Compose your shot but try not to get too close to the foreground unless you don’t mind the background to be soft – Remember the closer to your foreground the less likely the object in the background will be in focus – And then focus to infinity on your lens focus ring and then focus back until the foreground just comes into focus. Then you will usually have the depth of field maximised and pushed out as far as possible while still maintaining a focused foreground. It’s easy to understand once you try it.

That may have been a long road to a short conclusion but just a basic understanding of how your aperture and depth of field affects focus allows you to take control of exactly how you will focus your photo. I hope that I made that as clear as possible.

Shallow Depth of Field Photo
Shallow Depth of Field Photo

Focus Stacked Photo
Focus Stacked Photo

Lost In The Mossy Forest

Lost in The Mossy Forest.

Here’s a photo that I made yesterday while guiding my friends Al and Kathy Baca, from Long Island New York, around the Mount Hood National Forest. We spent a day in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and a day in the Mount Hood National Forest with a day of post processing between. It was a great time.

This photo was made while they were photographing bugs, flowers. lichen and moss with their macro lenses. I let them be for a few moments while I dove into the forest to get to this area. The roots captured my attention immediately. While I was there I felt as if I was in the realm of the forest sprites and gnomes.

This whole forest is in it’s Springtime best. All of the deciduous leaves are fresh green as well as the mosses. The forest is moist right now and emits a primordial essence and exudes an aura of primal simplicity. Life in its most primitive and its most beautiful.

I love the Pacific Northwest rain forests, especially in the Springtime. Consider a private Oregon photography exploration tour with Gary Randall Photography some day to explore some of the less visited places in this incredible state. I think that you’ll be glad that you did.

You can purchase prints of this photo at this link. https://gary-randall.com/product/deep-in-the-forest/ 

Columbia River Gorge Spring Wildflowers and Shallow Depth of Field Landscape Photography

Shallow Depth of Field Landscape Photography

Columbia River Gorge Spring Wildflowers and Shallow Depth of Field Landscape Photography –  In this day and age of hyper sharp, focus stacked photos, how do you feel about shallow depth of field landscape photographs?

When I’m photographing the wildflowers in the gorge I can almost always expect a wind or at least some sort of a breeze that tends to toss the flowers around. When you’re trying to increase your depth of field the breeze makes stopping down more difficult to do. An aperture lets more light in when open wider but the depth of field narrow, blurring the background. In many cases most photographers try their best to maintain a deep focus, but when that’s not possible the next step is to photograph multiple exposures at different focus points into the scene until frames are captured with each area in focus. After which these frames are combined to create a full focus from front to back.

But what if you are unable to focus stack or simply do not want to? In that case you will, most likely, deal with an area in the photo that’s out of focus. This can be used to a certain effect to create a feeling of depth. It can also be used to isolate an area in the scene that the photographer wants to make the subject of attention. In the case of the photo that is included with this blog post the foreground is in focus but it trails off to the soft glow of the sunshine in the background.

It’s not often thought of in landscape photography to use a shallow depth of field, but it’s used a lot in macro photography. But using a shallow depth of field is always an option that shouldn’t be completely ignored when the photographer is trying to be creative with their work. Does it work effectively every time? No, but there are times when we are challenged with capturing a scene, such as a windy day, when we can try to create something artistic instead of giving up and going home with nothing.

Sometimes super sharp focus from front to back isn’t necessarily the best approach to landscape photography. So keep this in mind on those windy or even on dark days. Perhaps it will eliminate a little stress or maybe produce a more creative image.