Week 3 class recap – Lighting and Portraits

“Improving in the arts, whether music, poetry, or pottery, requires passion, which fuels practice.” Chris Orwig from his book People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs

Week 3  is all about lighting and portraits and how to get one that tells the viewer something about your sitter.

This week we reviewed the exposure triangle: ISO, Aperture, shutter speed, DOF, the rule of thirds and composition.

We watched a slideshow about lighting and portraiture.

  • Our main topic was the four M’s of lighting (main light, meter, mood, modify) & lighting for portraiture. For our activity we photographed each other during class outside and in the atrium. We also talked about bracketing your shots and use the technique of putting your subject just inside a doorway on a sunny day.
  • Part of your assignment for this week is to shoot a portrait of a someone (no pets). Don’t just set the camera up and take a snapshot. Use some of the lighting and composition techniques that we talked about. Create a mood and tell us something about your sitter as well as yourself with your photos. Think about using your sitters environment as part of their portrait. (See TIPS below)
  • You were also asked to take a self portrait.
  • The self portrait assignment requires that you learn how to use the self timer feature on your camera.
  • For ease of focusing, think about putting your lens on manual focus mode
  • Use the flashing highlights (blinkies) to help with exposures in bright sunlight.
  • Try using your zoom lens set on a wide setting such as 18 or 25mm. See if that makes a difference in how you view your subjects. The object is to interact with your subject.
  • Play with your camera settings a bit and see where it takes you. Be creative.
  • Shoot from slightly below your subject’s eye line – shooting from slightly below a person’s eye line is more flattering for most people.

You’ll need to pick out your favorite self portrait and portrait and have them printed so we can discuss them in class next week.

Don’t forget to record the meta/exif data (ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings) for each photo that you bring in. You can write it on the back of each print or you can put it in a notebook.


One of the best and most underused locations for portraiture is an ordinary garage or doorway. The simplicity of location makes your subject feel at ease. Open the door and position the subject in the shadow near the edge of the light. You will discover the light is like nothing else you have seen. Make sure the lights are out behind them and there is no window in the back ground, If necessary, hang a backdrop behind the subject to cover up all the clutter. The garage creates a box, which protects the subject from direct sun. The sky adds a sparkle to their eyes. In a sense a garage door opening is like a big window without glass. And if the driveway or sidewalk is a light-colored concrete, it can act as a reflector bouncing the fill light back in.

If you don’t have a garage, any overhang will do. Experiment with positioning your subject closer and farther from the shadow’s edge until you find the right combination.

Try using a small stepladder or stool so that you can position the camera just above the subject’s head. This will cause him to look up so that the light from the sky will brighten his eyes.

Do some pre planning to keep your portrait sessions short, no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Some self portrait tips. And a few more.

I love this expalnation by photographer Joey L about the way he shoots portraits. He describes it as “The Dignified Portrait”.

The Mentawai, Behind the Scenes Documentary from Joey L .

Try to think creatively when taking your homework portraits this week.

Take a look at the intuative portrait examples as well as the Intimate portrait examples.

Check out the portfolios of Joe McNally for some great examples of portraits.

Here’s a good explanation of environmental portraiture. These are some really interesting environmental portraits. Some more and some more.

The self portraits of Vivian Maier. She used reflections very creatively.

Also check out these self portraits on Flickr.

Miss Aniela’s self portraits on Flickr.

Here are some more self portrait examples for you to peruse.

Also, check out these portraits on Flickr by David Hobby. David runs the Strobist website.

We watched this video over on the Strobist site about street portraiture by photographer Clay Enos.

Here is the link to the site of Kevyn Major Howard. He does headshots using natural light. Here is a link to the video featuring him shooting in his garage. Pretty cool setup.

If you’re interested in photographing children, Jinky Art is a great blog to check out. This photographer does some beautiful work.

William Coupon is an amazing  portrait photographer that you should study.

Check out these portraits by local photographer Glen McClure. Currently he has some work over at the Mariners Museum in Hampton/Newport News.

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Week 2 class recap – Composition…

In the end, though, having even the best equipment will not make you a good bird photographer any more than having a good set of paintbrushes would make you a good artist! Mike Atkinson

(Page number references from our textbook, Understanding Exposure, have been listed in parentheses so you can read further on each week’s subjects.)

In this week’s class we reviewed the 3 P’s. What are they? Practice, Patience and Persistance. The more photos that you take and the more you practice the concepts that you learn in class the better you will get at taking good photos. We also reviewed some of the ingredients to taking better photos. ISO, F-stop and shutter speed.

New things we talked about were:

  • Last week we learned about the different types of lenses and their uses. Zoom lenses (lenses that move from a wide angel to a telephoto or some variation) and prime lenses (a fixed mm lens) and the variations of each - wide, standard and telephoto. Here’s a link to some great articles about different lenses and how to choose the best one for what you like to shoot.
  • Lens compression (p. 53)

We will also look at your cameras mode dial and learn more about what those other letters mean.

  • Auto = Fully auto the camera does all the work
  • P = partial auto the camera allows you to set things like the ISO but controls the shutter speed and aperture
  • AV or A (depending on camera model) = Aperture priority you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed
  • TV or S (depending on camera model) = Shutter priority you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture
  • M = fully manual you make all the decisions

Here’s a good description of the mode dial settings as well as the scene selection settings.

For our lesson we looked at slideshow on composition, the rule of thirds and depth of field.

Composition: Things to consider…

  • Horizontal or vertical
  • Perspective
  • Subject
  • Simplify
  • Negative space
  • Lines
  • Visual Weight
  • Fill the frame
  • Motion
  • Depth of Field

We talked about the Rule of thirds (think of your viewfinder as a tic tac toe board) and how it affects the composition and feeling of a photograph. We also talked about shallow depth of field and how it is used to isolate a subject from it’s surroundings. Also, how there are a combination of things that are needed to achieve the correct effect.

Professional photographers use depth of field (DOF) to isolate their subjects and throw a distracting background out of focus (p. 42). To create a nice blurriness/bokeh behind your subject you’ll need to use a combination of the following…

  • Use a long Lens (85 mm and up)
  • Have a wide aperture/f-stop (1.4, 1.8, 2.0, 2.8, 3.5)
  • Get close to the subject
  • Keep your subject away from the background

Here’s a link to an article with some good information on achieving shallow depth of field.

A nice slideshow on composition by Marlene Hieleme of the ImageMaven blog.

Here is a link to a page with a list of articles on composition and The Rule of Thirds, also known as “The Golden Mean”.

For your homework:

Please read the chapter titled Aperture in your book. It will help with understanding how aperture works.

Assignment Part One:

Take your every day object and, using what you learned about composition and depth of field in in class re shoot it to make it look more interesting. Take a bunch of shots from different angles and different lighting. I also want you to see how you can use depth of field (DOF) to enhance your subject. Pick out your best shot and have it printed for class next week. Don’t forget to bring your original photo as well so we can look at them side by side.

Part Two:

Depth of field: I want you to pick two objects, stuffed animals, potted plants, etc. They must be at least 12″ tall. No miniature objects, no people or pets, and set then up outside on bench or table.

  • Try not to shoot in bright midday sun. Early morning or late afternoon light is good as well as bright open shade (**see definition below).
  • If you have one, use your longer zoom lens for this assignment. Zoom in on your front object or physically get in close.
  • Make sure your items are spaced approx 3′-4′ apart and that you position yourself and camera so you can see both the front and back item.
  • Set your ISO for the lighting conditions. 200 for a sunny day. 400 an overcast day or a shady area.
  • Zoom in on your front object.
  • Set your aperture/f-stop to to your widest aperture for your zoom setting. Zero out your meter with the shutter speed and take the shot. Your front object should be in focus and your back object should be blurry.
  • Without moving your camera position, focus on the back object. If your light looked good in the first shot you shouldn’t have to change your settings. Take another shot.
  • Again, without moving your camera position, set your f-stop to a small opening. 9 or 11 should be fine. Focus on the front object, zero out your meter with your shutter speed and take another shot. Both your objects should be in focus. If not, set your f-stop to 16 or 22 re-zero out your meter and take anither shot.
  • Print all 3 shots and bring them to class next week along with your reshot everyday item.

Here are a few examples of depth of field and front and back camera focus.

Front Focus (Shallow depth of field) (ISO 400, F8, 1/90

Front and back in focus (Long depth of field)(ISO 200, f5.6, 1/350)

Front focus (ISO 200, f8, 1/250)

Back focus (ISO 200, f8, 1/250)

Check out this video where Jen Leman talks and what inspires her to become a better photographer.


In the spirit of getting you all to look at the world through your lens from different view points…check out all these wonderful shots taken from low angles in the Flickr Low Perspective group pool.

I want you to go here and read the blog post by David DuChemin.

Got a question? Just shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to answer it for you.

**Definition for “open shade”: This term is used to refer to large shades caused by things such as large buildings, trees, hills, etc. However, these shades allow a large light source to illuminate the subject. It is good for photography because you avoid harsh highlights produced by strong sources such as the sun.

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Welcome and week 1 class recap – Getting Started…

“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” Minor White

Welcome to the class blog! This is the place where you can find information on each weeks’ class as well as information on the topics that we discuss as well as additional links to useful information on the Web. I will also be adding information regularly so please bookmark the site and check back often.

You can also share info and chat with instructors and fellow classmates on our class Facebook page.

This book is required. Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson

Here is a recap of this week’s class:

The topics we discussed were (page number references from our textbook, Understanding Exposure, have been listed in parentheses so you can read further on these subjects.)

  • You had a look into my camera bag.
  • We did a basic setup of your camera.
  • We discussed manual camera functions and learned how to set them on our cameras. What are the 3 P’s? Practice, Patience and Persistence. We also learned about some of the other main ingredients that help you become a better photographer. They are ISO (p. 20), Aperture/F-stop (p. 36), and shutter speed (p. 72). We learned how they relate to each other on the exposure triangle (p. 16). Remember: ISO affects shutter speed and aperture, aperture and shutter speed affect each other but they do no affect ISO.
  • Focus Modes and focus points and how single point focus is best when starting out.
  • We will talk about metering modes (p. 122) next week. Go ahead and read about them so that you have an understanding when we do. The main ones are evaluative/matrix, center weighted and spot metering. You will mostly use evaluative/matrix metering. Your camera is set to it by default.

We discussed using your camera’s built in light meter to read the light as a starting point for your exposure.

Here is the metering sequence… (More information on p. 22 of your book)

Please note: Before taking any photos make sure your camera’s mode dial is set to “M”. Also, check your ISO. You’ll want to set it to 200 for bright sunlight or 400 if it’s an overcast day.

  1. Set: set either the shutter speed or aperture
  2. Meter: get the meter to zero out with whichever setting you didn’t set (IE: if you set the aperture then use the shutter speed to zero out your meter)
  3. Shoot: take the picture
  4. Look: check it out. Is it too light or dark?
  5. Adjust: change either the aperture or shutter speed to adjust the exposure
  6. Shoot: shoot again
  7. Look: how does it look now?
  8. Repeat: repeat steps 3-6 as necessary to get an exposure that you like

For this class you will be shooting in hi resolution JPEG. We will talk more about digital files next week.

Part of your homework for next week is to read the introduction and chapter 1 in your book as well as familiarize yourself with your cameras’ manual functions. Get comfortable setting the f-stop and shutter speed using the thumb wheels while looking through the view finder.

Your homework:

  • Write a bucket list of things/places you’d like to shoot.
  • Find a photographer that you’d like to emulate. Email me a link to their site/photos so we can look at them as a class next week.
  • Shoot some everyday items. Make sure to shoot your items in good light. Don’t try to shoot things indoors in low light yet. Take at least 30 shots of different items and pick out your favorite 1-3. Print them in 4″x6″ or 5″x7″ format and bring to class with you next week.

I want you to start keeping your camera out and available. Take it with you when you go out if you can. Life happens fast so if your camera is in your bag in the closet you’ll miss a lot of good moments to photograph.

I also want you to start being aware of the light around you. Without light there would be no photographs. Watch how light changes at different times of the day and during different weather conditions. Look around your house. Do you have an area that gets really nice natural light? Is it all day or just at certain times of the day?

Please remember to bring your camera and manual to class each week as we will be shooting during each class period.

See you next week.

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Welcome to the blog…

This is the blog for the Virginia MOCA’s Introduction to Digital Photography classes taught by Lauren Keim and Judith Chauvette. New classes start July 8, 2014. Please see the MOCA website for more info.

If you are signed up for the Introduction to Digital Photography class the book Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson is required. You can purchase it on Amazon by clicking the link or at area book stores.

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