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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
- We came out here to do some portraits. Now a lot of times when you think, oh, someone in the family wants a portrait, or I'm in a beautiful location, I'm gonna take a picture of somebody, you probably find some nice light, line up a good shot, pay a little bit of attention to your background, maybe think about depth of feel, and get something like this, a very nice portrait. Maybe you're feeling a little more daring, and you get a little closer. You understand that you don't have to show a person's whole face, and so maybe you get something like this. Also a nice portrait. But don't stop there.
These are nice representational portraits, but it's really fascinating to start treating a portrait as a landscape. Do the same thing you would do in a landscape photo, and start working the landscape of your subject's face. I'm shooting right now with a Canon 100mm F/2.8 macro. That lets me get very, very close and crop really tight, and by really tight, I mean really tight. I'm gonna go right in here to her eyes. Stop down my aperture to buy myself a little more depth of field, and get somewhere in here.
This is what I'm talking about, about experimenting and exploring the landscape. And I'm not just paying attention to her face. I've got this great red background behind her. Her hair looks great in front of it, and everything changes every time she changes her facial expression, so that's really fun because she's actually doing a lot of the work for me. And why stop there? Let's see, I can get this to focus even closer. Eyes are the obvious thing to go in tight on. They're fascinating, especially in nice soft light like this.
We're shooting in the shade, which is giving me a bit of a white balance challenge. I'm on auto white balance, which isn't doing so great. But I'm shooting raw, so I'm just gonna fix it later. I can try it white balance preset, I'm still gonna need to fix it later. So I shot a gray card earlier that I can use to fix that up. But I'm just gonna see what else I can get going here. Eyes are interesting, but so are mouths, especially working very shallow. That's interesting, her hair moved out of the way. This shallower hair just becomes this nice big yellow feature that's fun to play with, just kind of sculpturally.
So I've just been working up close. I've been shooting a bunch of stuff, just playing around her, playing with the relationship to foreground or background. Of course, when you're working at these kinds of macro distances, depth of field becomes kind of your real limiting factor. Particularly shooting off angle like I am like this. One eye'll be in focus, the other might be out. So I'm playing with different apertures to try and get different depth of field. Remember when you're real shallow like that, a movement even as small as this is gonna change your focus. So I'm relying on auto focus for that initial focus hit, and then I'm just doing tiny little motions and trying to eyeball focus.
Courtney's doing a great job at changing it up, and it is fascinating when you're in that close. You'll see the whole landscape of her face change as she changes expression. So if you're not working with an actual model, if you're working with someone who's just standing there terrified on camera, try to encourage them to move, encourage them to breathe, look different directions. You can actually give them specific instructions and open up a whole new range of photographic landscape to work with. So very simple thing you can do. Again, I haven't brought out any fancy lighting or anything, just some nice open shade. A great pair of eyes to work with here, that she's doing a lot with.
And just a lot of experimentation. Again, it's just like wandering through any pretty landscape somewhere.
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