Portraits

Ibiza - a lovely spot for a wedding. by Neil Alexander

Ibiza - delightful setting for a wedding.

The weekend just gone I was invited with the boss to attend a wedding of family friends at the foam party capital of Europe, the delightful little sun kissed island of Ibiza. Never one to miss an opportunity to make photographs somewhere new I dutifully crammed as much gear into my Think Tank Airport International roller as weight and space would allow and popped my little Fuji X-Pro into my shoulder bag. 

On the first evening, after getting some serious R 'n' R in by the pool (it was ace to be sans enfants for the weekend), I had the opportunity to make some photographs around the old town of Ibiza. I decided in the end, to arm myself simply with the Fuji and it's 35mm F1.4 lens, tripod and a bunch of filters and see what I could see. When time is restricted (I had two hours with little chance of a return trip) and I'm completely new to the area, it is very hard to make good photographs. Not even knowing what's to see never mind how the last light will fall can make things very difficult indeed. I'd done as much research online as I could but until I actually had my feet on the ground, visualising any photographs was very hard indeed. The inclines and the narrowness of the streets took me by surprise and I really wasn't ready for the chaotic nature of it all. I wandered and wandered and whilst I never actually got lost, I ended up doubling back many times after hitting dead ends. It's like a rabbit warren at a 45° incline. It was certainly worth the climb up to the top though as the views are great and the sunset over the hills was a peach.

 And that was pretty much all I managed to squeeze in in the short time I was there. Oh, yes there was a wedding the next evening, and being very good friends of my wife, she "encouraged" me to take a camera and shoot some pictures for them. I know which side my bread is buttered on so obviously I complied. It was actually a lot of fun. No pressure. Just me and the lil' X-Pro again. The local pro they'd hired had a much harder time.

Six simple secrets to a better photograph by Neil Alexander

I thought it about time I did some more tips for you dear reader, so I’ve popped together six simple secrets to help you make better photographs. Whilst the majority are geared towards portraits, they all also apply to all other areas of photography. So whether you’re shooting the kids in the park, or the Eiffel Tower at sunset, they’re all tips worth learning. So here goes, in no particular order:-


1.  Get down to their level
When photographing kids, pets or generally anything smaller than you, get down to their height or even lower. Photos, particularly of kids from above don’t do them any favours, nor do they make great images. Your photos are better when you show engagement with your subject and this is much harder to do from above. They don’t have to look directly at the camera, the eye level angle by itself will create a personal and inviting feeling.
 

Looking down on the children doesn't make the most engaging of photographs. Image courtesy of the  UN

Looking down on the children doesn't make the most engaging of photographs. Image courtesy of the UN

This image shot at eye level engages the viewer far more than the image on the left. Images courtesy of the  UN.

This image shot at eye level engages the viewer far more than the image on the left. Images courtesy of the UN.

2.  Move it from the middle
There are so many rules of composition, thirds, golden spiral, foreground and background elements etc etc but one of the first things you learn as a professional photographer that once you’ve learnt all the rules, start breaking them, but know when and why.
That doesn’t mean that putting your subject anywhere in the frame will make a good photo. Sticking it  drop dead centre will undoubtedly create a weak image. Try moving them to the left or right so that they are a third of the way into the frame. 

The viewer's eye is instantly drawn to the brightest part of a picture and in this image it is the doorway which I placed in the bottom left hand corner of the frame. 

The viewer's eye is instantly drawn to the brightest part of a picture and in this image it is the doorway which I placed in the bottom left hand corner of the frame. 

And here it is without the thirds lines. Had I placed the doorway in the middle of the frame, the photograph would be considerably less appealing.

Similarly in this image I placed the model to the right of the frame focusing on her eyes and placing them to the top right.

Similarly in this image I placed the model to the right of the frame focusing on her eyes and placing them to the top right.

An example of the crop overlays available in Adobe Lightroom. Placing your subject on one of the intersections will create a more appealing image. It's all to do with the brain and the way the eyes see things. Don't ask me to go into more detail, it's more than my little brain can cope with.

3. Move in closer - zoom with your feet
Particularly relevant if you're using a camera phone or a camera that doesn’t have a zoom. I know that most phones have a digital zoom, but don’t use it. You’d be far better off using your feet. Legendary photographer, Rick Sammon, puts it quite succinctly: "The name of the game is to fill the frame”. By doing this you will eliminate background distractions and show off the details in your subject. 
 

Image courtesy of  Viewminder

Image courtesy of Viewminder



4. Use the flash outdoors
Even outdoors, using the fill flash setting on your camera will improve your images. Use it in bright sunlight to lighten dark shadows under the eyes and nose, especially when the sun is directly overhead or behind your subject. But know the range of your flash. Keeping it on whilst you're taking photographs of Ryan Giggs taking a corner at Old Trafford from Row ZZ isn't going to do a whole lot.
 

You will see from the shadow that the net has cast on the ground that the sign is very high in the sky. The girl's helmet puts her face completely in shadow making it difficult to see her face properly. Image courtesy of  Soe Lin

You will see from the shadow that the net has cast on the ground that the sign is very high in the sky. The girl's helmet puts her face completely in shadow making it difficult to see her face properly. Image courtesy of Soe Lin

Here, and in the same harsh direct sunlight, the photographer has used on-camera fill flash to put light into the shadows caused by the girls' helmets onto their face. Image courtesy of  Soe Lin

Here, and in the same harsh direct sunlight, the photographer has used on-camera fill flash to put light into the shadows caused by the girls' helmets onto their face. Image courtesy of Soe Lin


5. Direct
Take an extra minute to become a picture maker rather than a passive picture taker. Add some props, rearrange your subjects, or try a different viewpoint, up high or down low or even a different angle. Bring your subjects together and let their personalities shine. 

Careful orchestration of the models enjoying the food makes for an engaging photograph. Publicity shoot for the Castlefield Hotel, Manchester.

Made as part of a series titled Crime? This carefully choreographed image creates mood and intrigue. See more of the series here.


6. Watch the background
If you’re portrait subject is stood in front of a telegraph pole, your photo may look like the pole is coming out of their head. Take a minute to look at your background and try and avoid any distracting clutter or bright colours. 

An excellent example of "pole in head" syndrome. Moving subject backwards a foot would have made him look less afflicted. Image courtesy of  Christian Bardenhorst

An excellent example of "pole in head" syndrome. Moving subject backwards a foot would have made him look less afflicted. Image courtesy of Christian Bardenhorst

Despite being deliberately done, this image shows perfectly the need to check the background before clicking the shutter. Image courtesy of  rawdonfox

Despite being deliberately done, this image shows perfectly the need to check the background before clicking the shutter. Image courtesy of rawdonfox

So there you go. 6 simple steps.... Any questions or feedback, feel free to comment below or email me direct.

Quick and easy location portraits by Neil Alexander

Recently I was asked to shoot some portraits for a construction company at their offices up in North Manchester for their new look website. This was a rare occasion in that I’d been unable to do my usual pre-site visit to see what the location would be like. So on the day, I headed up there laden with everything including the kitchen sink in the worst rainstorms I’ve seen for some time. The combination of not having seen the offices and the torrential rain was beginning to make me nervous. It meant that no matter how awkward the office was to shoot in, there was absolutely no chance of shooting outside instead. Guess what I found on arrival? Small windowless rooms and long narrow corridors. It was going to be extremely problematic to shoot in. I had no choice but to make it work, somehow.

 

It came down to using a dark long narrow corridor shaped like a T, no windows, fluorescent lighting and without a great deal of room to manoeuvre. At one end I threw up a white seamless and put a Lastolite Ezybox on a stand. There was very little room to position the light and not get it in the frame. In fact the corner of the soft box is in the top corner of every frame. As the subjects varied from a tad shorter than me to way way over my head, I made a conscious decision to tripod my camera and crop the softbox out  after the fact. 

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Quick location portrait set up shot

I dialled in an exposure just sufficient to get a completely black frame, and then incrementally added flash until I had the light I was looking for. The Ezybox wasn’t quite enough on its own though. As a result of the only position I could put it, I was getting too much fall off on the far side of the subjects' faces and bodies. I set up another Quadra on the other side and directed this at the white wall so that it would bounce back and provide a little fill. Worked a treat.

It was all going fine until somebody mentioned a group shot……

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