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Horse headshots

June 29, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Last month I traveled to Vernon Hills to take some on-site staff headshots for a medical imaging company.  It had been a little while since I had been out of the city and when I drove by a horse farm with real, actual horses grazing around outside in the sun I couldn’t help myself and had to stop on my way back.  Coming from a shoot I had my camera with me and asked the owners if I could roam around taking photos of the horses.  They allowed it… and mentioned that I was the third person this week to ask if I could take photos of their horses, then mumbled something about “city folk” before getting back to work.

While taking some quick shots of these huge, adorable creatures, I started thinking about headshots and finding the most flattering angle for people.  It’s really no surprise that’s where my brain went while trying to photograph horses, which have a pretty difficult shape to photograph flatteringly, and the only angle I had was up their nose since they’re a few feet taller than I.  The experience reminded me that photographing people takes some experimentation and patience.  You’ve got to move around a person’s head and capture them at different angles to find the angles that make them look their best.  Up the nose is almost never one of those, though.

Unflattering horse angle.

Flattering horse angle.

Flattering horse angle.

Choosing a point-and-shoot camera

June 14, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts

the Canon Powershot s95

A friend recently told me his point-and-shoot digital camera had died and he was looking for some tips in choosing a new one.  Knowing I use a 5 pound state-of-the-art digital SLR with more megapixels than one person can possibly eat in one sitting, he figured I could at least have a few comments on choosing a 6 ounce pocket camera.  I went through the pocket camera selection process myself about a year ago when I got a dog and wanted a little point-and-shoot camera to have at the ready when he does incredibly cute things and I don’t have the time or energy to whip out a full SLR.

I settled on the Canon Powershot s95 back then after weighing several factors, and chose that camera because it had what I personally wanted for my specific needs: all automatic shooting, manual options for when I want to manipulate the settings myself and get creative, and video functions.  (I needed the video functions for when my dog does something REALLY cute that only a video could capture its absolute cuteness. And man has that come in handy…)

Most point-and-shoot cameras are at a variety of price levels because they have a variety of options.  How do you know which options are right for you?  Not very many of them are all good or all bad- even something like megapixels isn’t universal.  More megapixels aren’t necessarily better– most of us don’t make prints large enough to make use of extra megapixels and it’s not until you’re making prints 2 feet wide or larger that you need to start getting into the double-digits of megapixels.  And a lot of sensors on smaller cameras can barely handle the workload of extra megapixels and can start to suffer drawbacks in other categories: most often low light performance can get a little sub-par.

I took this photo with the Canon Powershot s95

When choosing a point-and-shoot camera start with thinking about what you’ll need it for.  In what kinds of conditions are you going to be taking photos of things?  My friend, for example, was mostly going to be taking photos of groups of friends at parties and events, and the occasional plate of muffins he makes and wants to post photos of on Facebook.  So I told him to choose a camera with good reviews and features for those situations: a good flash, low-light performance, fast focusing, image stabilization, and something that’s easy to use and clearly marked buttons for when he hands it to a stranger to take a photo of him with his friends.  And of course, something with good macro capabilities for extreme close-ups of muffins.

Most new cameras don’t even have a viewfinder anymore, so choose one with a wide LCD screen on the back that’s easy to navigate and fast to respond.  If being able to zoom in really close to something, like taking photos of your kids at a Little League game, get a camera with a longer focal length built into the lens.  The marketing for point-and-shoot cameras usually dumbs the zoom factor down by measuring it in “x” factors, like “8x zoom!” but it’s not a standard measurement system.  Look at the stats on the lens itself for the best range the camera will take photos in.

For example, my camera’s lens range is equivalent to a 28-105mm SLR lens.  The widest it will go is 28mm, which is good for group shots or really wide landscapes, and 105mm is a good zoom for standing about 8 feet away from someone and getting only their face in the photograph.  It zooms in further than that (there’s that “x” factor, where the camera kind of crops in on the image digitally instead of the lens extending further with the optics themselves), but that’s when it starts to get more difficult to get a good photo: the camera is harder to hold steady and get a clear photo, and the resolution starts to suffer.

Experiment with your point-and-shoot to find out what its strengths and weaknesses are and you can take some great photos.  And keep that manual!  We’ve all had that one little blinky light we can’t figure out how to shut off or how to get the flash to turn off when you don’t want it…

How to be photogenic: tips from a dog

June 4, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I’m not very photogenic, so good luck taking my picture,” I would have a heck of a lot of nickels.  As a photographer, I recognize the simple fact that some people are just more photogenic than others.  Yes, that’s right.  Someone whose business is in getting paid to take good photos of peoples’ faces just admitted that some peoples’ faces look better in photos than others.  I have just admitted what we all know but don’t dare say out loud.

I’m not saying that some people are uglier than others- I believe we are all individuals with our own personal looks, styles, and ways of expressing ourselves, and in my own neo-modern-hippie way, I believe we are all beautiful.  And finding a way to translate your personal look into a great headshot people will appreciate before they actually meet you in person is the real challenge when having your portrait taken.

I believe in 2 steps to making yourself more photogenic when a camera points in your direction, and the first, most important step I learned from photographing my dog.  That step is to be yourself and relax.  My dog doesn’t give a crap what his photo looks like or even what a camera is, so he doesn’t change his face or expression one iota when a giant lens is looming over his snout.  When you have your photo taken, don’t try to aim your face at “that one angle that made my nose look great in that one photo of myself I saw 10 years ago.”  We’ve all been there, and it results in 10 years of photos of us looking awkward tilting our head in weird angles.

When you’re having your photo taken, own it- just smile, be yourself, and believe you are the beautiful, confident, capable person you know you are, and you will look beautiful, confident, and capable in your photo.  When other people look at photos of you they’re not looking at your hair, your nose, your eyebrows, or any individual feature.  They’re looking at the overall photo as a representation of you and are only determining if you seem friendly, approachable, capable, professional, etc.  Focus more on how friendly you want to look in the photo and you won’t notice anything else!

The second step in being more photogenic in my opinion is retouching.  Before any purists get upset, I’m not talking about crazy, body-image altering glamor photos that completely change an ordinary person into Cindy Crawford.  Because you still want to look like you so someone can look at your photo then pick you at a networking event.  I’m talking about maximizing the effect of the friendly, approachable photo as a whole by minimizing the effect of certain things that distract from the friendly, approachable reading you want people to get out of looking at your photo.

Taking a 3 dimensional face, which people read as 3 dimensional in person, and making it into a 2 dimensional picture, which an eye reads as 2 dimensional when it’s seen, can distort our features and enhance things we don’t usually see in person.  Our eyes filter through shadows under the nose and skin imperfections in person because we see it all the time and read right through it to get to the business of communicating with the person themselves.  But we don’t have this in-person benefit in a photo, which is a flat, artistic representation of a person.

And if anyone is aware of this it’s me- one of my eyes always looks bigger than the other in photos but not in person.  Am I supposed to say, “that’s me, but I don’t actually look like Quasimodo in person, I swear,” when I show my picture to someone who hasn’t seen me in person yet?  Nope.  And I gave up trying to squint my big eye to match my small one or angle my head in juuuuuust that right direction so they look the same size.  I’ve already got 10 years of photos of my head at weird angles.

I’m taking a tip from my dog from now on and suggest you do too: What camera?  I’m just going to sit here happy and confident and smiling and if there happens to be a record of that confidence in the form of a photo, so be it.  And if that photo happens to make those dark circles under my eyes look darker than usual, then send that thing to the retouching department!