Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Portraits of Mum – Part 2 – select and fix

In my last blog post I talked about how to take great photos of mum for Mother’s Day or any other occasion. Today I am going to explain how to process them.

Once you’ve downloaded and chosen the best shots – I use Lightroom because it is so simple to use, it’s time to fix the photos.

I will adjust the white balance – in the series of images I shot the white balance was a little too warm so I cooled the images down and adjusted the Exposure in the Develop module.

I will then fix any skin blemishes either in Lightroom or, if you’re using Photoshop Elements, for example, I’ll do that with the Spot Healing Brush – it is as simple as painting out the problem areas and uneven skin tones.

To lessen the effect of wrinkles a good fix is to make a duplicate of the image background layer and to blur this duplicate layer with a small radius Gaussian blur filter (Filter>Blur>Gaussian blur). Then selectively erase the top layer to reveal the sharper features underneath leaving the blur over the wrinkles. You will want to erase the blurry eyes and mouth and perhaps some of the blurred hair. Finally, reduce the Opacity of the top layer to blend the two layers together for a great result.

If your images are a colder blue color then use a warming filter to give the portrait a warm pink glow which is very flattering to skin tones. In Photoshop Elements, to do this, choose Filter > Adjustments > Photo Filter and choose a Warming Filter (85). You can set the density of the filter to control how strongly it is applied. In the Lightroom Develop module, you can drag the Temperature slider a little to the right.

I like to use the Photoshop Elements Lightening Brush to lighten a person’s teeth slightly and I’ll often use the Saturation Enhancing Brush to brighten their eyes. Err on the side of caution though, the edits you make should be subtle and gently enhance the photo – you’re not applying Halloween makeup!

If your mum gets just one photo that she loves of herself from those you’ve taken – you’ve given her a wonderful gift. Best of all, you can bet she’ll be happy to pose for you again next year.

Helen Bradley

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Portraits of Mum – Part 1 – How to get the best shot

Helen Bradley explains how to get the best shots of that very important person in your life – mum!

My mum hates being photographed! I’m not that fussed about photographs of myself either. As I age, my face doesn’t always refect the age I feel inside and many photos catch me looking less attractive than I’d like to look. I have every sympathy for my mum who is obviously years older again than I am.

However, chronicling the women in our lives, our mums, mums in law, grandmothers and aunts is an important part of recording our family history. This mother’s day or some time soon, grab the special woman in your life, sit them down and take a portrait that they’re happy to look at. It’s not difficult when you know these few tricks for capturing them at their best.

When something really strikes your subject as funny – be ready to capture a one off shot that will make you smile.

Most people look better looking up at the camera rather than looking down at it. Even someone with no double chin will get one when looking down! Looking down at the camera also accentuates a person’s nostrils which isn’t always flattering.

When taking a photo, position your mum so you can stand higher than she is – this usually means that she needs to be sitting down. Find a place indoors with good natural light and shoot inside or find a shady spot outside.

For our pictures of Anne here we hung some dark curtains from a front porch to shield the worst of the bright and uneven sunlight and shot outdoors.

Here the subject leans on a favourite book and the pose is nice and relaxed.

Using a tripod will ensure that the camera is still when you take the shot – if not, focus on keeping it steady – especially if you start clowning around and you need to laugh. Jokes are good – in fact anything that works to make mum relaxed will help lots. I usually take a friend who is a bit of a wag with me and she makes comments and asks questions of the person I’m shooting. By the time a few minutes have passed the person being photographed forgets I’m even there.

Having something for your mum to hold or to rest on works well as it gives her something to do with her hands. We used an empty picture frame, a chair turned backwards, a book and a sledge hammer (there was some discussion about eyelet setting that prompted Anne to pick it up) when shooting.

Holding a frame gives the subject something to do with her hands and the natural reaction is to ham it up a bit for the camera.

You can use anything from a flower to a stuffed toy – whatever helps to take mum’s attention off the fact that you’re photographing her. Ask mum to wear some light makeup – while you can remove obvious blemishes later on, the even skin tones you get from wearing makeup can save hours of fixing on the computer and really will improve the portrait a lot.

Having the subject lean on something – here a chair turned around gives them something to do with their hands.

When you’re shooting, take lots of photos. I take as many as I can with the promise that I’ll keep only the best and anything that the person absolutely hates will be deleted – no questions asked. After all, I want to do this again and building trust in me as a photographer is really important.

Keep shooting even when the subject is scratching their nose!

You will find that the best shots generally have the person looking direct at the camera – this isn’t to say you won’t get great shots when they’re looking elsewhere but you can improve your chances by having them look at the camera as much as possible. When shooting, fill the frame with the person’s face. The closer you get, the more detail you will capture and the more intimate the resulting portrait will be. Check the results from time to time to make sure they are well lit and check again every time you move position, because the light will change – particularly when you are out of doors.

Here we asked our subject to strike some funny poses and the result was captivating.

If time permits, have mum change clothes half way through the shoot to a different colour so you get a different feel to your photos. You might be surprised how some colours work better with certain skin tones. We liked Anne in the pink jumper best of all. If you have the space to work, move around to get a different perspective of your mum, but always take care that the background isn’t cluttered and that it remains unobtrusive.

Helen Bradley