Inspiration & Technique: Jean Smith

Something occurred to me: some of you have families, and taking pictures of your family is what you care about. Time for me to make this blog more relevant to your needs.

The business of being a "family moments" photographer is so full of phonies. It is not the kind of photography I am into - matter of taste - but this is a kind that answers a market demand, so a lot of people claim to be photographers for a thousand bucks a day. Most so called "professional" just own an pricey camera and an insurance...hopefully.  It's quite sad since it's very important for the customers who spend big bucks to capture meaninful parts of their lives. When doing that job, you must deliver because you have been hired and paid, so you have to be capable, with a good amount of well mastered techniques to leverage. 

Luckily, in the middle of that ocean of dodgy so called photographers, there are some true enthusiastic professionals such as Jean Smith. I swear I don't know her at all, I'm not advertising for anyone. I just came across her work and thought: "oh, this is some consistently good work in a field that usually don't attract the best". So I thought I'll use her stuff as an excuse to learn a little :)
I don't think her single person portraits meet the super high standards of someone like Jan Sholz (although he cheats a little by using pretty naked ladies) but she has some really good techniques when in comes to multi subject portraits; which is a pretty difficult thing to do. It leads to really nice family pictures. Let's see if we can extract some of those techniques:  I'll take a few shots and explain why and how you should get inspired by them. 

Have you thought of cropping lately?
Cropping brings you closer with the subject as it leads you towards details of the face, hands. But it's not only about distance: your brain will extrapolate the missing part, while emotion you try to convey will take over the picture as no disturbing elements will remain. Cropping simply creates intimacy. You cannot crop anything anytime, but it's fun to practice and easy to do post processing with the huge files nowadays cameras produce. See the other point below about depth of field, very relavant when cropping. 

Have you thought of leverage depth of field lately?
 Depth of field is the best way to make sure you lead the eye where you mean to. If everything is sharp, where are you supposed to look? It can make total sense to make everything sharp, but on such portraits, focusing at the right place and having the proper amount of sharp depth is important. See below, if the entire family was sharp, it'd be like "hum...that's weirdly cropped, why can't we see the whole family?" Because it's a portrait of the dog. You can project the family even though they are blurry, you get the idea of a family, without removing focus from the dog. 

On this second picture (this one is by me but I needed it for the sake of the example), I cropped and used a narrow depth of field to get just what I wanted: an intimate boy's portrait, within the context of his family.
Have you thought of paying attention to your focus point lately?
We have the cropping and the depth sorted, but where to focus on? Well sometimes it's about that one detail in context. Portrait of a baby and his/her parents? You could of course shoot them right in the middle of the frame, all sharp and smiling like they do it naturally, posing like a cosmetics commercial. Or you can do what's here: a tiny foot, extracted from a blurred family hug. Now that does look a bit more like something parents would do. Also it looks so much more intimate. 

Have you thought of over / underexposing lately?
In a picture, you very rarely have every element lit at the same level. So you have to make a call: what will look normal, what will be dark and what will be bright? I'm sure you've had those shots where the sky is blue and you subject is dark, or your subject is fine and the sky is white. Well, don't let the camera decide: go manual, and pick your mood.

On this first picture (my favorite from the batch), the essence of this new born is caught by his profile alone. The dad's posture tell everything that needs telling, and the round blue bright zone on the wall contrast with the baby's head. What does dark bring us here: it removed unnecessary details, it creates intensity, it is the first face to face, father and son, and it's deep shit.

And the opposite use of light here: let's flood the room with light to create a moment of heavenly happiness. Fundamentally that shot is properly exposed, but I bet you a camera in auto mode would think "wow! much light, very bright, must expose less". And you'd loose that dreamy mood. Tell the camera what you want, add 1 stop or 2 if you need. You can do a lot of different things with the same scene, just by changing exposure.

Have you thought of using context to tell a story lately?
What tells the story of a young couple starting a life together than being in your first kitchen? Nothing (...that I can think of right now). So use the room, rooms have lines, you can use lines to compose. Once you have a nicely composed image, place your subjects into context and tadaaaa! You have a story. 

I hope those tips and tricks will help you take better pictures of your loved ones. I'm not usually that corny so push it. Soon more pretty ladies and war photography to even things up.
RooaaaR! Outdated manliness !

No comments:

Post a Comment