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This is the first installment of my five part discussion on the differences between snapshots and portraits.
Differences Between Snapshots and Portraits
Let there be light!
Stop and take a moment to look around . What do you see? A beautiful botanical garden? Animals at the zoo? Children and family? Sports action? Whatever it is, you’re able to see it as a result of light. Everything.
The basic principle of photography is to focus the photons being bounced off objects onto a film plane or an electronic sensor to capture an image. A camera needs light to do it’s primary function. Without light, we would live in a world of darkness and there would no need for cameras!
It is quite easy to see why professional photographers are light junkies; light is a critical aspect to photography. Get it right and you can possibly capture a great portrait. Too much light and your photo will be completely washed out … too little and everything fades to darkness.
Start paying attention to the light around you on any given day. What mood does morning light create? How about light during a sunset? What does harsh sunlight at 2pm on a bright/clear afternoon do to someone’s face when it beats straight down on them? What about the softened light from an overcast sky? Not only are the lighting characteristics different, they have different color tones to them. A sunny day will likely give everything a warm glow just an overcast day will give everything a cool blue cast.
Once you have the basics down of good portrait lighting, it’s time to shift your thinking to proper exposure. Exposure isn’t just about “getting it right”. There are important considerations to take when it comes to exposing for detail in the shadows versus details in the highlights:
- If you are shooting a low key (i.e. moody low light) scene, chances are you want to extract every ounce of detail from the shadows.
- If you are shooting a high key (i.e. bright light typically with a pure white background), you will want to extract all the detail you can from the highlights without overexposing the scene.
There you have it! Take the time to think about light and exposure the next time you pull out your camera. To get that special portrait, plan around the morning or evening sun and bring the necessary equipment to your photo session. If you don’t, you may end up with just another snapshot!