Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grab Portraiture Learning Curve

As Bogart famously remarked, "Here's looking at you, kid". Photographs containing people and animals hold a particular interest for us. This is specially true when the the subject is looking at the camera.

Finding that I like to shoot candid portraits has meant learning more about color correction. For example, in the image below the photo was taken very quickly (a few seconds at the office Christmas party) in an environment where the lighting was a combination of tungsten lights, two kinds of fluorescent lights, and a large north facing window on a blue sky day. Here is what the jpeg looks like right out of the camera (set on auto color balance):

Anna's face is too blue on one side and too yellow on the other and the exposure (set to aperture priority auto exposure) is a bit dark. Correcting the overall image (raw file) color balance didn't give me a satisfying result so masks were necessary to correct some areas of the image differently from other areas (mostly on the face). The color of a human face, and a very young human face in this example, is a challenge because of the subtle shading and the curves that give shadows and highlights which are often illuminated by different light sources. I can see why portraits are usually made in a studio where the light is carefully controlled. After correcting the color as best I could and working on her eyes a little (brightness, contrast, saturaton) and the overall brightness and contrast of the image, the result is more pleasing, at least to this photographer (oh yes, I fixed the mark on her face too):

Other situations are a little easier, color wise, but the time element can be another obstacle to getting the shot. This example was taken outside on an overcast day (single light source). The young lady below had just gotten her face painted at the 4th avenue street fair this last Sunday. I asked her if I could take her photograph, she said "yes", looked at me for about two seconds, and then went back to talking with her friends. I got two frames but in the second one she was already turning away. Again, spending an hour in a studio makes a lot of sense to get the composition right.

This is one of the things that draws me to photography, learning how to do things better and better. For years, black and white was the medium I learned about, exposure, contrast, focus, and depth of field were important but color balance wasn't a consideration.

Both photographs taken with Canon 5D mk II and Canon 135mm f/2 lens. Both images taken at f/2.8. As ever, click on the images to see larger versions.

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