The stock photo shop has moved to a new life somewhere else leaving this domain at my disposal. After being retired for a couple of years I’ve decided to bring the old blog-style website back to life.
So, what can you expect to find here in the future? I’ll do some more articles with tips and tricks, write about some of my thoughts on photography and display some selected work.
I hope you’ll stop by again soon.
Portrait photography is of course not only about studio photos. You kan make just as good – and often even better – photos, if you take your camera outside or go to the home, where the children live. The child is more relaxed in it’s own home and you will be able to catch more natural looking photos. And you don’t need to bring a lot of equipment. Although I have a complete mobile studio setup, I rarely use much of it, when I make photos on location.
There are two things you should remember when doing photos on location with simple tools.
The first thing is that you must remember to light the face properly – nothing spoils a portrait more than a dull, dark face. Use a reflector for natural light, a flash pointed to a white ceiling to spread the light or a single umbrella or softbox to give a diffused light. Or simply use a very low f-value and high ISO to use the available light, and blur or even burn out the background.
The second thing – and equally important – you must avoid strong shadows on the subject. Usually this applies to the background too – a strong silhoutte shadow cast of the subject on the background isn’t that appealing. A properly diffused light will help you with this, and so will the use of a reflector.
With these two things in mind, you can make brilliant portraits anywhere. In the living room, the child’s room, in the garden, the staircase – you name it. The portrait below was taken on the kitchen floor. In the album you can find other portraits taken in different parts of ordinary homes.
I often use props when making portraits of kids. It serves two different purposes. First of all it makes it possible to capture natural looking expressions full of curiosity, smiles and laughter that will end up as much more interesting and funny portraits than the traditional “still life” portrait . Second, it will make the nervous child relax almost immediately. One of my personal favorites are soap bubbles – I always have several bottles on stock in my studio. But almost any kind of toy will work. A lot of my son’s old toys that he don’t use anymore (or at the moment) are kept in my studio as easy to access props. The props don’t necessarily have to be a part of the portrait of course, but if they feel natural, and aren’t distracting on the final portrait, don’t be afraid to include them – kids and toys are closely related. And think about how the child would play with the toy for real, so things don’t look too staged. If the prop is a toy car, let the child play on the floor where toy cars belong, or on the edge of a table with the child peeking over the edge.
Stuffed animals are of course also very useful. I have a pile (literally) of all sorts of stuffed animals in my studio. Let the kids pick their favorite and watch them play with it, cuddle it and start talking about it. No wrong, don’t watch – make that camera click!
There are so many things to say about composition. One thing that I like to use is what’s usually called “negative space”. This can be achieved by many different approaches, but the simplest way to explain it is when your subject take up a relatively small part of the portrait and is looking either into or away from that large more or less empty area of the photo. Depending on how you use it, it can add both drama and emotion to your portrait, and make it a lot more interesting and eyecatching than the ordinary portrait shot. You will find several examples on the use of negative space in my albums.
If I could bring only one piece of equipment beside my camera, it would without doubt be my reflector. I use a reflector for all kinds of portraits – high key and low key studio portraits, and for natural light portraits indoor and outdoor. I think that I use it for 99 percent of my portraits. Reflectors come in many flavours. White, silver, gold and with stripes of each of these colors. My favorite one is the one with stripes of gold and silver. This give me a soft, slightly golden light that I find suitable for most applications.
When you use it, you usually want to light the face from below and make the light hit the face just as high as you don’t make the subject squint. This removes shadows below the chin, the nose and eyes. In addition it gives you a very attractive and sparkling reflection in the eyes that makes your subject look real and alive in a way that no studio flash ever can (and certainly not the built-in camera flash).
The best thing about reflectors is, that they aren’t that expensive. You can find professional quality reflectors with a price tag of 200 dollars, but a cheap 10 dollar reflector from eBay will pretty much reflect the light the same way as the expensive one. And you can do it with even less than that. When making spontaneous portraits at private parties and family reunions, where I didn’t bring my reflector, I have used large pieces of white cardboard, aluminum foil trays or large metal plates from the kitchen. Anything that can reflect light will work better than not using anything.
Even without expensive light equipment you can make pro-quality portraits just by opening your front door and go outside. The garden is a very natural environment for child portraits and there’s actually nothing like a cloudy day to give you brilliant light for photography. Clouds work like a huge softbox in the sky, and gives you an even, soft light very suitable for portraits. Your subject won’t squint and you don’t have any harsh contrasts and burned-out, overexposed areas on the photo. And yet, you have plenty of light from the sky to use a reflector, so you can light your subject’s face with warm, golden light looking like a nice, sunny day.
It’s okay to smile in a portrait, but it’s certainly not required. You’re not making a toothpaste commercial. Most of my favorite portraits don’t have any smiles. Not because I prefer sad kids, but because this is how we usually look. Most of us don’t walk around smiling all the time. We have a natural and neutral facial expression – this is how people know us. Smiling in a portrait can look very pretended and it makes us squeeze the face together, squint, give us dimples and creates shadows everywhere on the face. All of these can be both charming and cute, but they don’t suit every child. In my opinion the neutral face can give the portrait a more emotional and pensive dimension. It can be difficult as a photographer to judge what appearance the child and the parents think suits their child best – and most of them don’t actually know if you ask them. At least make some photos without smiles, so they have an option.
If you want to make mommies cry and hug you and love you for the rest of their lives, just add drama to the portrait. This is a very personal opinion and a regular part of my work – and I can assure you, that a lot of mommies are loving me
Movies are my most important source of inspiration. I love quiet, minimalistic scenes with intense emotions that you can feel without a word being said. Try to picture a scene – romantic, melancholic or sad – and recreate it in your studio with the child. Not every child can do this, but most of them can. Try to explain the story you want them to act and give them time to improvise. You might even want to send mom outside, so the child can concentrate on the role to play. Turn of your studio lights, go to high ISO and use natural light or a single light source for the photo. I prefer B&W images for this kind of photography to get close to that movie-feeling, but colour can work too.
Don’t worry about skewed walls or floors and horizons not being even. You’re not a landscape photographer but a portrait photographer. If it looks good it’s okay, even if it makes that old landscape photographer gasp. Strange angles can add a lot of life and energy to a photo – especially on closeups.
Cropping a portrait is a difficult thing to do. We don’t want the leave out anything, so we tend to capture as much as possible. But the closer you get to the subject, the more intimate will it be. The closer you get on the face, the more dominating will the eyes and the mouth be – and the more you reveal about the expressions made by them. In my opinion close-up shots with a very tight crop are the most captivating to look at. You can easily crop the portrait in your postprocessing, but try to think about it, when you take the photo. Which part do you want to display and where do you want the eyes to go in your composition. Try do take the picture as close to the intended cropping as possible so you don’t waste your megapixels on something else than capturing all the details.
As a rule of thumb: When you crop, crop a lot. Don’t just remove the top of the head. Crop at the forehead. Don’t just remove the edge of an ear. Crop close to the eye instead. Don’t cut small things like the chin, crop at the shoulders instead. In general, don’t crop anything at a place that will make it look “skinny” and unintentionally amputated at the edge. Try to measure the edge. If the “amputated body” doesn’t take up a significant part of the length of the edge, you should probably crop somewhere else.