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Beginner Photography: Portraits

I feel like my photography is one step forward, two steps back. Once I feel the slightest bit confident, I have a shoot that I just cannot get right. This is one of those weeks. I’m starting to feel limited by my resources. I would have killed for an external flash for this week’s project. My Olympus does not seem to do well in low light, even though I didn’t feel like my setting was particularly dim!

So this week the subject is portraits, which we did a few months back (you can see my blog post on it here.) It is discouraging to see that my shots then were better than what I came up with this week, but the setting was certainly more conducive to shooting portraits.

So, since I took individual portraits last time, this week I decided to try and take some family shots of my husband Eric, my daughter Eloise and me. Here’s a super helpful video that Tony made on shooting groups:

Here are some tips from that video, some I followed, and some I didn’t:

  • Neutral clothing. You don’t want distracting logos or bright colors busying up the shot.
  • Clean background. If you don’t have a home studio, pick a clean background and get as much distance as you can between your subjects and the background so that you can get some background blur.
  • Use soft light. It’s very difficult to light everyone evenly, so if you can use a bounce flash or a softbox, do.
  • Shoot from the waist up. The face is the most important subject, you don’t need the whole body.
  • Camera Settings. Use a moderately fast shutter speed to freeze any movement, somewhere between 1/60th and 1/125th, depending on if children are involved. You’ll need a high f/stop as well to get multiple people in focus. Somewhere between f/8 up to f/16 depending on how many people you are shooting. Your ISO is going to have to go up accordingly.

So I wound up breaking a lot of these rules, and my shot suffered as a result. I don’t have a home studio, it was far too cold to shoot outside, so I though I’d try getting an environmental shoot of our family near the Christmas tree. That meant we were using indoor lighting, a mix of the tree lights, a regular lamp, and the small bit of outdoor light we had coming through. That made a pretty inhospitable environment. Here’s what I came up with:

 You can tell just by looking at it that my f/stop and shutter speed are too low (0.6 seconds? f/4.5?) I also didn’t realize I had my ISO set to 200 for the whole time. I’m not sure what’s in focus, but it’s not our faces.

And that was the best of those.


This is essentially a snapshot. Eloise wanted to pose with the cat, who is facing the opposite direction. 


So that night was a flop. The next night I thought I’d try shooting in another room that had slightly better light. But you’ll see the shadows cast by overhead lighting.

This actually came out a bit better. My ISO was jacked up this time, so it’s a bit noisy, but seem to have gotten more in focus.


My husband in the chair where he draws.


So these photos are fine. My mom will be glad to have them. But they are not good. Did I mention how hard it is to shoot a photo with yourself in it? Because oh man, what a focusing nightmare. 

Here’s a whole page of videos on how to shoot portraits. Seems I need to revisit them myself!

And just for fun, here’s an in-between shot, once our dog Hungry busted into the room:

Look at that guilty dog face.