Studio portrait photo taking progression….


This is a pretty basic, simple photo. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just a simple shot of my dear little Charlie doing what he does. It’s not ‘technically perfect’ by any stretch, but it’s a pretty good photo. Shadows aren’t too out of place, most of it is well lit and there is nothing hugely weird going on with it.

The process of getting this far was quite interesting and frustrating. I have never played with ‘studio lighting’ or flash or any kinds of artifical light, so it’s a whole new world for me. I watched youtube videos and searched google and asked people about tips and tricks for shooting with flash. I finally worked out how to set my camera to work with flash, yeah I never even knew how to do that… I had no idea on shutter speed and apertures to use with flash, so that was the first thing to get my head around. I got it, eventually…

Ok, so I thought I did…

Below you will see my very first attempt at using my speedlight off camera. Charlie was my reluctant test subject. Poor kid. Some advice I got was “Don’t worry about the background, you can fix that later” and “If you shoot far enough back with a shallow depth of field then the creases won’t show”. Lesson number one: Yes, worry about the background because fixing up creases like this is a nightmare (unless you want to spend ages in photoshop which I don’t). Lesson number two: In a fairly small space of just a few meters you cannot get far enough back to make the background blur away. Of course the main lesson here, was that I need more practise, loads of it…

I have no words...

Ok, I was just trying to work out light and things… None of which were remotly working for me… Variations of this happened for most of that day…

Most normal people would delete something like this and pretend it never happened. I like to embrace my learning side, especially when it is this bad, because it makes other bad ones not look so bad after all.

I perservered for a while. Ironed the sheets as best I could, tried different ways of clipping them to the curtains which hung behind them. Tried nailing the sheet to the wall, using books to weigh the bottom down… I came to the conclusion that it would maybe be worth investing in a proper backdrop system designed for studio photography. However me being the penny pincher I am, decided that I didn’t want to spend the money, so I would just keep experimenting.

hmmm... I guess there is an improvement somewhere

White sheets are much easier to hide the creases when you lift up the highlights and whites! Not quite there yet though. The dark grey carpet was an issue so I chucked the closest thing to a white sheet on the floor. New problem. Creases on the floor because of the carpet… Oh man, why couldn’t I just have a money tree growing in the backyard so I could get wooden floorboards and a full studio set up, it would make life easier. No money tree though. I hit up google again and read a whole lot of nice little articles about the people who turned their spare rooms into photography studios on a ‘budget’. Only thing was that all these ‘budget’ studios still ran into the hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and that was just flooring and backdrops. Don’t get me wrong, I may eventually spend some money to get the ‘proper’ set up, however I am not going to fork out a whole bunch of cash until I have faith that I can actually shoot decent studio type photos.

Eventually I met up with a good mate of mine who is a master of lighting. He says it is easy, and that there is really nothing to it. Which maybe it will be when I actually nail it, but he forgets that he is already really good at it and it’s something he has a really good eye for. So I demanded he teach me. Which he did, but I got even more confused and lost when he pulled out super big lights and remotes and started trying to teach me a whole lot of stuff about light and metering and metering for flash and blah blah blah. Suddenly my little speedlight seemed like a childs toy. I am then informed by said friend that I can take the lights home and play and practise for as long as I want. He has a better set now, so I can have some real lights to practise with.

Things started to improve. My editing got better and my random pointing of lights started to teach me a thing or two about shadows and effects and what not. Please note here the beautiful portrait of brother and sister… My take on an ‘awkard family portrait’, learning the finer details on paying attention to the details. I would like to say it is so bad that it is good, but reality is it is just bad. Funny though, and a little odd. All up I am pretty happy with what I am getting.

Currently I am still in the process of working out full body shots. I’m stuck with the carpet making the sheet crinkle under foot. I worked it out for a couple, but it meant totally darkening out the background so the dark sheet and the grey carpet were so underexposed it hid the line where the sheet meets the floor. Won’t work with a white background and not always with a dark one. I have an idea though, which I will try later. It involves an old fold up camp table in the shed. Reuse and recycle is my motto! It may not quite be big enough, but I will be keeping my eyes out for anything that could be used as a portable hard floor.

I found some old shelf brackets in the shed and got a curtain rod to hang my background on. Works better than clipping it to the curtains. Although my drilling into wall skills aren’t so awesome. It seems when you just drill a couple of screws in and then put a little bit of pressure trying to weigh down the backdrop to remove creases that the screws just pull straight out of the wall and onto your head… Wall mates are the way to go apparently… Ha.

It’s fun playing studio portraits. And I’ve got some pretty rad shots of the kids in the process too. Charlie seems to love standing in front of a camera pulling faces. He pretty much spends his day doing it, so the only difference is where I put him.

The moral of the story is that we all start out badly. Some worse than others, but it’s all relative. Everything is a learning curve and if you are willing to keep having a go at it then chances are you will get better at it. Some people say you should only ever put your very very very best work on facebook or the interwebs for the world to see. I don’t follow that way of thinking. I guess if I had plans to try and become a world famous photographer then yeah, maybe I would. For those of you who follow me on the facebook then you know I generally upload a lot of photos, not all are totally super awesome, lots have ‘flaws’ and I am sure people pick them apart, thats the way the world works. I do like being able to flick back through facebook and look at things and say “holy crap, that photo is just atrocious!”, it means I am getting better and improving.

And as our good friend Jake would say:

Dude, suckin at something is the first step to being sorta good at something

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