Sunday, January 31, 2010

Give your portraits some space

Looking through photo-enthusiast's portrait photographs on the Internet I notice that nearly everyone goes for a very tightly framed shot with prominent head and shoulders or face.

If there is any space in the frame the photographer often gets a comment along the lines, I would have cropped the top or side or whatever.

The purpose of this blog post is to suggest that while Robert Capa's maxim, "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," is definitely worth keeping in mind, you can really enrich a portrait by using the environment to help tell the story.

I'm not saying anything new here and anyone who studies the work of the "father of the environmental portrait", Arnold Newman, will immediately see that his sitter's face is often quite small in the composition - stuck in the bottom right corner or off to one side of the frame. Arnold intelligently and creatively used the whole context to enhance the image.

Editorial photographers and photojournalists use the environment around their subject to tell the story. Magazines and newspapers would be dead boring if all we ever saw were head and shoulder portraits.

So next time you want to shoot a portrait, don't be afraid to leave some space, no actually make that a lot of space, around your subject. And when that guy comments on your picture on flickr and says you should have cropped it tighter, smile and think of the great masters of photography like Arnold Newman.

I'll leave with a quote from the master himself...

"There are no rules and regulations for perfect composition. If there were we would be able to put all the information into a computer and would come out with a masterpiece. We know that's impossible. You have to compose by the seat of your pants."

- Arnold Newman (1918 - 2006)

Till soon,

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

RAW software update

Portrait of Vincent, a real craftsman who makes and repairs musical instruments with enormous care, love and dedication. And he doesn't use any software to do it. Click the image to see a larger version.

The topic of which RAW converter to use for your digital images files is as hot as ever on the Internet. A while back I wrote an article comparing different packages and I've seen that the article is regularly read.

So for those of you who are curious here's a little bit about my latest experiences.

I used Lightroom 1 from when it came out and quickly became a big fan. All my digital workflow went through Lightroom and Photoshop for the final processing. About a month ago two things happened. I got a laptop and I've ended up using it for most of my work. And I decided to give Lightroom 3 beta a try on my new laptop.

Now I know Lightroom is Beta and all that but the slowness of opening an image, waiting for it to render sharply on the screen and run through each process started driving me nuts. So when I was in a rush, which is usually the case, I opened Adobe Bridge and used it to organise my images and then from there opened RAW files straight into Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and then into Photoshop itself if the image needed more work.

Processing images in this way has speeded up my workflow tremendously. For example when I click the magnifying glass in ACR I instantly see the enlarged image. I don't have to wait a minute for the image to clarify and become sharp as I did in Lightroom 3. Each operation is much faster. And the development engine is essentially the same as in Lightroom so there are no differences in quality between images developed using the two different forms of software.

Lightroom is prettier. It's got additional features and tools. But for the way I shoot there's nothing that I feel I'm missing by using Bridge, ACR and good old Photoshop CS3. I can achieve the same or better results a lot faster than when I used Lightroom 3 Beta.

Everyone has their own workflow and way of doing things and I'm just sharing my personal experience here. But I think it is wise to always ask questions and to never assume that because something is new it is going to be better for you. And you could save yourself some serious money by not rushing ahead to get the latest in everything. I'm sure people using very powerful machines will not notice any speed issues with Lightroom 3 but on my laptop I certainly did.

Hope you find this article useful.