Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Professional Difference

(Click photo to enlarge)..
Let's compare the two photos above. One is a nice professional portrait. The other is a nice candid snap shot, but lacks the qualities of a professional portrait. Ever wonder why some photos just seem to "pop" and other are just "ok"? What is the real different between a photo taken by a friend or untrained photographer and one taken by a experienced professional photographer? Read on, and you'll understand.
It takes more than just owning the latest professional digital camera to create a fine professional portrait. A camera is just a tool. To create a truly fine professional portrait, a photographer must have an understanding of lighting, posing, proper lens selection, using the right aperture setting, using the right shutter speed, etc.
Let's look closely at the above photos. What's wrong with the one on the left? In technical terms, it's a good photo...properly exposed, properly focused, and the subject has a pleasant expression. Some might even say, "It's a great photo". But with today's easy to use cameras, almost anyone can take a photo that looks like this. Oh, by the way, the photo on the left was taken by my 4 year old grand daughter.

What does the photo on the left lack that the photo on the right has? What keeps it from being a fine professional portrait?

First, bad lighting. While there certainly is enough light, the eyes are too dark. "The eyes are the window to the soul", and as a general rule, you should be able to see the eyes. It takes a delicate balance to get just the right about of light, sort of like cooking with garlic, you can over do it and ruin things. You want the photo to look "natural". And this lighting is very flat. Flat lighting generally makes a face look fatter, very unflattering. To create a photo that flatters the subject, you have to learn to "see" and find "portrait lighting" outdoors. You want a directional light, like in the photo on the right, that creates a nice balance of highlights to shadow. It took me years of practice and attending seminars, workships, and conventions to grasp concept of portrait lighting.

Next, bad pose. The subject in the left is turned straight into the camera. Want to make a person look as wide as possible? Have them turn their body straight into the camera.

Number three, wrong lens choice. Using the wrong lens, makes the subject look out of proportion. In this one, the hand looks too large.

Number four, wrong exposure setting. Many beginning photographers just set their camera on full automatic and never really understand f/stops and shutter speeds, or how to use the "right" f/stop or shutter speed. When shooting outdoors, generally I like to use a lens and exposure setting that throws the background out of focus, thus putting your eye's attention on the subject. Photo on left has a busy background, which competes with the eye's attention for the intended subject.

Number five, bad color. Notice how the skin tones on the photo on the left  are sort of lifeless? Professional photographers know how to "color balance" a photo and often spend hundreds of dollars on monitor calibration devices so what we see on the monitor, is what we get back from the lab.

Number six, wrong angle. Ok, admittedly Reagan (the photographer) is only 3' tall, but I often see photos taken from the wrong angle. To flatter a subject, you have to learn the proper shooting angle. You can add or subtract pounds by the angle you choose.

You may ask, "But aren't professional photos expensive?"  I learn a long time ago, cost is important, but what's more important is, "What am I getting for my money?".  Anything you buy is too expensive, if you aren't happy with the purchase. There's a saying in business, "The bitterness of poor quality lasts long after the sweetness of low price is gone". Yes, compare prices, but also look very close, "What am I getting for my money?"

Plumlee Photography has photo sessions in many price ranges, something to fit everyone's budget. We now have a budget session that starts at just $95. But you say, "I've heard that senior portraits can cost $1,000". Well, you could spend that much, most don't. In addition to regular 8x10, 5x7's, and wallets, we have such things as canvas wall portraits and portrait albums. If you have a specific budget in mind, give us a chance to sit down and visit with you about the various options.

Photography has been the #1 hobby in the country for many years. Everyone loves capturing special moments. But certain times in your life should be trusted to the talents of an experiened professional photographer. One of those times is as a high school senior. I've always thought a senior portrait is, for most people, the most importrant photo they will ever have taken. Who will you trust, to capture this important time in your life?