Saturday, May 10, 2008

My First "Sweet 16" Portrait Shoot

A while back an ex-coworker from a job ago emailed me to ask if I'd take portraits of her daughter's "Sweet 16" party. The description was fairly vauge.... "fun shots of the kids dressed up". Since this was a friend of mine, and because my experience with portraiture is practically nil, I of course immediately said "let me get back to you" :) After a while I of course agreed, and this afternoon I went out to their country home to "shoot the kids".

First the good stuff. The kids were awesome, patient and willing to go along with this weird guy taking pictures of them, and I'm glad that their mom was there as she was able to corral everyone nicely and move from place to place... lets just say she knew what she wanted and dammit her daughter's sweet 16 was going to be perfect! The environment was great as well, their yard is beautiful, and being spring had flowers and blooms everywhere.

However, for lighting, the conditions couldn't have been worse, especially for a newbie like me. First of all it was overcast, and as I chose to shoot with a flash this meant that these shots had a dark background. The kids were nicely exposed, but they were sitting in a pool of light with bladk behind them.

Speaking of kids, they were about as contrasty as you can get, 4 white kids in black tuxes and dresses... also one of them didn't have a tux jacket so he just had a white shirt on.... about the same challenge that a wedding photographer has with a black tux next to a white wedding dress.

My flash (the AF360FGZ) did it's best, but either it or it's operator seemed to manage to underexpose about every image by about 2.2 stops :( Maybe it was the black tuxes, operator error.... It just seemed that the shots were all really dark, or they had white blobs of overexposed faces on top of darkness. I'm really glad I shot in RAW, as that combined with Lightroom's excellent exposure controls has allowed me to recover most of the shots, it seems the dark ones respond fairly nicely to exposure of +1.8-2.2 and a hit of fill light around +19 to bring out some of the background and the details in the suites.

Not a huge loss after all thank goodness :) The first pass on the images I've been making shows that most are recoverable, and some are actually not bad.

Things to remember for next time.

  • Consider not using a flash. Better yet, remember how to set it to only do fill flash mode, instead of just on P-TTL or the high speed sync mode.
  • Take test shots first to get the lighting and exposure right. The LCD will not give you the full story. Luckily I had the over/under exposure warning set, so I could see when the really-dark turned into pure-black, but the rest of the images were for the most part, still too dark.
  • Taking the time to zoom in and check the histogram would have avoided some stress.
  • Scope out the area ahead of time if possible. They have a gorgeous yard that I wasn't able to take full advantage of.
  • Get closer, get closer, get closer! Then get a bit closer. I'm so glad I have 14mp to work with!
  • I have to learn to know what looks good and how to get people to do it for me. Again, thank goodness that her mom was there and had an idea of what she wanted.
  • Remember to look for / fix the oven mitt hands.
  • Details, details, details.... I avoided trees growing out of heads for the most part, but little things like one person having their feet or hands pointed in a different direction than everyone else can take a picture down a notch.
  • Get more lines to get people to relax.... I think I used "pretend you like each other" about 30 times. First time good, 30th probably just annoying. I'll have to get a set of billy bob teeth to get a laugh.
  • Will HDR work to fix the white shirt / black dress issue? Hmm....
Will update when all the post-processing is done and will post some results when/if I get permission from parents in the form of a model release.


fozbaca said...

"Get more lines to get people to relax...."

Try the "clench/squeeze your left butt cheek" trick. Doesn't work all the time but it sounds just strange enough to give many a good naturalish smile.

Alan Bailward said...

Nice one! Another one I learned (and completely forgot to look for / use) was gripping your hands in a fist and then releasing to get a more natural hang of your hands.