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Author Topic: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please  (Read 4679 times)

PKinDenmark

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My first 'assignment' was to make portraits of a friend with his family.
I would like to learn as much as possible from this.
So I turn to you here at CR for advice / comments / critique (asking for true opinion, please).

I am quite well satisfied with the results (as a first formal portrait-shoot). However I see that the pictures could have more intensity, and I full well know that there is quite some way to go to reach 'great'.

My setup:
Canon 6D, 24-105mm L
2 studio flashes - Visatec's Solo 1600 B Monolight.
One at my left upwards to high, white ceiling, the other at my right through white umbrella. In general I had plenty of light.
Black roll of background paper.

#1:  Family,               85 mm, f/9.0, ISO 200
#2:  Couple w. dog,  47 mm, f/9.0, ISO 200
RAW, some PP in LR5 (+Elements for these uploads)

My own immediate lessons learned:
 - better with more distance from people to background (that did not turn up quite uniform, so I spent much effort to smooth out this in #2)
 - some hair-light would be a benefit
 - there are so many variables in play - difficult to stay cool while keeping a good contact with the people (which was my priority)
« Last Edit: December 23, 2013, 08:53:53 AM by PKinDenmark »
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IMG_0001

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2013, 02:57:42 PM »
Hi there,

I am no portrait specialist, but I can tell you what is just my humble opinion. First, I don't think there is anything really wrong with the photos you have provided but here is what does not work for me.

In the first picture, the child on the right is too far and has his shoulders pointing away from the family, As a results he looks a bit excluded, and this is emphasized by his restrained smile and serious stare while others are having a wide grin. That makes the picture feel a bit awkward to me.

Also, I like a black background for formal or high contrast portraits, but here, I don't feel like it fits the casual attitude and the low contrast lighting. The black background also eats away the dark shoes of the man and make him look like he has no feet...

On the plus side, I find the lighting to be soft and relatively pleasing and you managed to get some catchlight in the eyes of your subjects. I find the second picture to be the best of the two.

Best regards,
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PKinDenmark

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2013, 04:45:12 AM »
IMG_0001
Thank you for taking your time to respond.
I find your observations very useful and will keep those in mind going forward.
I appreciate that very much.
Best regards
Keen amateur. Current kit: Canon 6D since April 2013. 24-105 f/4, 70-200 f/4 IS, 50 f/1.4, 100 macro f/2.8 L IS, Canon 1.4x II TC, 16-35 f/2.8 (I). 420 EX.

Jim Saunders

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2013, 02:41:09 PM »
Considering the images you took and the feedback from IMG_0001, I'm curious to see what you get next time.

Jim
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IMG_0001

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2013, 02:59:56 PM »
IMG_0001
Thank you for taking your time to respond.
I find your observations very useful and will keep those in mind going forward.
I appreciate that very much.
Best regards

You are welcome. Best of luck for your future assignments.

Edit: Well, not that I think you really need luck, but you get the point, I wish you all the best...
« Last Edit: December 24, 2013, 03:08:42 PM by IMG_0001 »
What a mess, my camera's sensor is full of massless particules that keep on trying to behave like waves!

RLPhoto

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2013, 05:51:00 PM »
You need to step them away from the BG a few feet so that the seemless becomes smooth.  (Similar to my avatar photo)
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davf

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2013, 05:34:00 AM »
Just to add an observation to what has already been said. In the first photo the boy on the right seems even further separated from the rest by the mother's arm and the distance between him and his brother. There is also the fact that you can see the father's hand on the mother's arm but there is no contact made with the boy on the right. He does seem apart. Very good photos none the less.

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2013, 05:34:00 AM »

PKinDenmark

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2013, 08:55:13 AM »
Again: Thank you for your comments.

The comments about the older boy being 'outside the group' has made me see this more and more. You are absolutely right.
Looking through other shots from the session I certainly have some, that I find better in this respect. One of these is attached below.
Another shot with a more relaxed setup is added.

These two were not the initial first choices - but now the jury is at work again  :)
They have not yet been finished up completely. But may be candidates for further work.

EDIT:  Ooops: I just noted, that these photos do not fit within the window here at CR. How do I avoid the need for scrolling? By smaller size in pixels? - or ?
« Last Edit: December 27, 2013, 09:45:09 AM by PKinDenmark »
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Quasimodo

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #8 on: December 27, 2013, 10:01:46 AM »
I think the latter ones were better and more natural. I would second that you should move them further from the backdrop, as there is no reason that we should be able to see that texture.
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jyrbba

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2013, 10:15:06 AM »
The picture looks like you asked them to "smile" or something. It doesn't feel like they actually generated a smile. You need to work on your posing and expressions, which is (i think) more important then lightning etc. But to improve on the lightning add a hair light. I wouldn't worry about the seamless not being seamless, you can fix that on photoshop with a simple layer of texture. 


sanjosedave

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2013, 01:21:32 PM »
The pic with the dog and the last one with the Mom and 2 boys are the best

In the Mom/boys pic, I can still see ripples in the black background

Try having them say, 'yoga' right before snapping, it helps the mouth form a soft smile

Have you reviewed past family pics to get an idea of their style?

Have you thought of going outside the box, of playing, during the session? For example, pose them like an intro to Family Feud, or some other iconic TV/Movie

What about a pose where everybody is staring at their phone/electronic device

What about a pose where the Mom is sitting in an elegant chair, surrounded by the men in her life, with dog in lap

Best of luck, you are moving forward, and this is key

dstppy

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #11 on: December 27, 2013, 03:02:28 PM »
The picture looks like you asked them to "smile" or something. It doesn't feel like they actually generated a smile. You need to work on your posing and expressions, which is (i think) more important then lightning etc. But to improve on the lightning add a hair light. I wouldn't worry about the seamless not being seamless, you can fix that on photoshop with a simple layer of texture.

+1

You have to be able to get people to loosen up to get good pictures.  My son's at that age where he puts a way-too-big phony smile, squints, and throws up a peace sign.   ::)
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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2013, 04:04:35 PM »
I do prefer the pics from your second. selection, mostly the one of the entire family. Your subject surely could look more natural, but honestly, I must say that I don't find them to be shockingly trying too hard. It is hard (although important) to have people looking natural in front of the camera.

Regards.
What a mess, my camera's sensor is full of massless particules that keep on trying to behave like waves!

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #12 on: December 27, 2013, 04:04:35 PM »

mackguyver

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #13 on: December 27, 2013, 04:22:12 PM »
This is great work for your first assignment and it looks like you've gotten some great feedback so far to use for your next shoot.  One other tip I don't think anyone has shared - it's picky but important to do your best work.  Be careful of the 3D to 2D conversion of photos when it comes to body parts.  By that, I mean watch out for hidden fingers, arms, and legs.  In the second photo, there's a noticeable pocket the husband has his hand inside of, but his wife's fingers look "cut off".  If the dog was further left and covered her whole boot, it would also look off. 

As I said, very picky, but in the past I had the great fortune to correspond with a photographer who shoots for Vogue and he was always on me about this stuff when he would look at my photos.  It's not noticeable at first, but if you look at enough photos you'll see that it's these little details that separate the pros from the top pros.

Good luck with your future work - I'm confident you'll do well considering you were brave enough to ask for advice!
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unfocused

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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #14 on: December 27, 2013, 05:48:21 PM »
A few thoughts that echo what others have said.

Technically, the shots are excellent.

Group shots are hard. Getting one person to look comfortable and relaxed isn't easy. Lots of times, two people can actually be easier because they can play off one another. But, three to four gets really complicated.

That's especially true with family groups and even more so with families with older kids. Anyone who has ever been through puberty knows what a painful time it can be and how conflicted kids are in their relationships with their parents. It's just a tricky time in the child's and parents' lives. Also, in this case, the father seems very uncomfortable in front of the camera. There seems to be a lot of stress in the portrait session and the strained relationships show through.

I'm not sure what, if anything, you could do about it.

One thing I think is very important is allotting sufficient time for a portrait session. You need some time to get everyone comfortable with having their pictures taken. Sometimes you'll get really lucky and you can get a great shot in the first few minutes of a shoot. But, more likely, you need to burn through a couple hundred frames before the subjects get comfortable and pliable.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, the formal portrait just isn't going to work. That's when it's time to head to a park and try candid shots of them just interacting with one another. A nice spot in some open shade and you can forget about lighting and focus on the subjects.

Ultimately, portraiture has nothing to do with lighting and everything to do with relationships. The relationship between the subject and the photographer and the relationship between the subjects in a group portrait. This kind of group portrait is a difficult assignment and for a first effort with a very challenging group, you did a great job.
Having said all that, here are a couple of technical tips.

First, the shot of the couple with the dog is great. The couple looks relaxed and the dog is very natural. Super hard to get.

Try breaking the plane.  In the group shot, everyone is pretty much positioned in the same plane. Try mixing it up a bit, arranging them so that they are in different spots in relation to the film plane -- someone closer, someone more distant, less of a "line them up and shoot them" look. (This requires a smaller aperture to keep everyone's eyes in focus and greater distance to the backdrop, so that it remains soft or indistinct, but it can be more interesting.

Get off of eye level. Stand on a stool and look down on them, have them cock their heads up. This makes the head the largest object and closest to the lens, which is generally more appealing.

Find a prop. Take a small loveseat or couch and arrange them around it. Some seated, some standing. Shoot from slightly above to add some visual interest. Props also give people something to do with their hands. Use something timeless though (a soccer ball for instance, if the kids are into sports). You don't want to use some new piece of technology that will look silly and dated in five years.

Finally, be sure to soften the mom's skin in Photoshop. Duplicate the layer and then go in with the healing brush and basically remove every wrinkle and line from her face. Get in close and really get rid of those lines and blemishes. It should look unnaturally smooth. Then gradually adjust the opacity of that layer so that the original layer starts to show through and you get a nice, softening of her skin that is natural but flattering. You want her to look the way she looks in her husband's mind. And, remember, still photos emphasize flaws because people are frozen and we have all the time in the world to look at their skin. In real life, people move and we see them as living beings, not as rigid statues.
Bottom line, there is nothing wrong with these shots, but you can learn from them for the future.
 
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Re: Family portrait - my first assignment - advice and comments, please
« Reply #14 on: December 27, 2013, 05:48:21 PM »