Friday, 26 June 2015

A Teaspoon of Emotion may sway the judges


Although this is Tip No 4, it should probably be Tip No 1.

The single biggest factor that will elevate your image as a finalist is to add the element of EMOTION.

Too many photographers think that if they secure the services of an attractive/interesting subject, arrange quality lighting and produce a pin-sharp image with an expensive camera they will automatically guarantee a top ten finish. Its not true.

'Dragonfly' Family Portrait - Nikon D700 1/60@f16 800ISO 50mm Nikkor lens. 
Portraits involve making images of human beings; living, breathing human beings.
Humans have thoughts, feelings and moods - all expressed as emotions.
Too many photographers either intentionally or unintentionally seek to hide emotions.

How do you express emotion in a portrait?
  1. Facial expressions - in particular the eyes and mouth
  2. Body language - gestures, body angle, reaction to a stimulus
  3. The surroundings can contribute
  4. Add a second person - interaction
  5. Add a dog or cat (or any animal!)  - interaction
Entries to the  2015 International Portrait Prize close on 21 August 2015. It costs just AU$20 to enter and there's AU$12,000 in cash and prizes. For full details click  FiPP2015.

If you want to learn more about Portrait Techniques and Photographing Faces click HERE for details of the UWA Extension photography workshop.

Monday, 15 June 2015

If you look like your Passport Photo you're too ill to Travel

What is the difference between an Environmental Portrait and a Head and Shoulders (H & S) Portrait?

The H & S Portrait


Dale Neill © 2012 Margaret Halsmith
There's an old saying
'If you look like your passport photograph you are probably too ill to travel'

So many times I get to view and judge portrait images and they look remarkably similar to just a big version of passport images.  Some are so bland, if you add an ID number, they could pass as prisoner ID shots! 

Photos used for identification on Driver's Licences and Passports are almost always H & S portraits, albeit very unflattering ones. Typically, they have plain backgrounds and if there is any surrounding material it plays little or no role in the portrait. The person's head and shoulders occupies 70%-90% of the frame.


One would hope that your H & S portraits are of higher technical quality and aesthetic value than a passport image!

Here are three tips if you are choosing to do a H & S portrait:


  1. Show human emotion - sadness, happiness, tears and laughter. You may have to act liek a human yourself and really communicate with your subject on a one-to-one basis.
  2. Go for superb technical quality - full highlight and shadow detail, quality lighting, sharp eyes
  3. Special features - show the subject's freckles, sparkling eyes, weathered skin, bushy eyebrows, diamond stud, tattoo, scar or 'I'm not just a waitress' lipstick.


The Environmental Portrait

In an environmental portrait the person occupies a much smaller percentage of the frame (somewhere between 5% and 25%).  The rest of the frame is the narrative or the story-telling part of the portrait. It's a huge advantage to have the narrative parts of the image working in your favour. Every element should be helping to tell the story of your subject.  Here are three tips for completing an Environmental portrait.
Dale Neill © 2013 Potato farmer and his son Turkey


  1. make the narrative elements replace the title. eg place the farmer in a farm environment
  2. make sure your subject is still the 'hero' in your image
  3. use landscape format
For your chance to win AU$12,000 in cash and prizes for your best portrait visit the FiPP2015 website.

Learn more about photographing faces at a UWA Extension Photography Workshop.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Become a Meaner, Leaner Photographer - Dale's 3 Month Diet!

If you want to avoid being a seriously plump, brain-numbed, over-automated photocopier try my three month 'Photographer's Diet'. Its boot camp for serious photographers.

The biggest danger with being overly reliant on automation is that when you face a really tricky lighting or exposure issue, your camera won't be able to handle it ...... and you won't be able to think your way through it. You will feel frustrated and probably produce a very average, boring image.
Fuji S2 Pro - shot in Manual 200ISO 1/200s @ f11. Elinchrom 1000w studio light.

First, let's look at how aeroplanes fly. With the latest commercial aircraft, an average long haul flight lasting 14 hours requires the pilot to fly the aircraft manually for just 12 seconds on take-off and 17 seconds on landing. Modern aviation computers monitor and control everything else during the 14 hour flight.

Nikon D700 - M 250 ISO 1/160s@f8. Elinchrom 500BX 
Aviation experts are now becoming concerned with the increasing numbers of near misses and also the lack of hands-on real life experiences and simulations.  They feel aviation is breeding a new batch of incompetent pilots with limited hands-on who will be unable to handle serious problems or weather condition.

So too with modern cameras. There's automatic exposure including auto ISO, auto shutter speed and auto-aperture. There's also auto white balance, auto flash and auto focus. To top it off there's a range of  modes ranging from sport to underwater, parties, babies and food. You name it, there's a mode for it.

The result of the automation of modern cameras is that photographers have stopped thinking about what they are doing. Because they've stopped thinking it means they don't understand what's happening inside their cameras. They probably don't understand what's happening inside their heads either.

On a photographic tour I ran recently I asked my group to shoot in manual mode for the first two days. There were lots of complaints and some disastrous results with exposure and focus. But gradually they got a handle on what they were doing. They started thinking, their confidence improved and they started handling tricky lighting situations with ease.

Three months later, one of my tour participants, Clive, wrote to me.  He told me proudly how he had achieved a perfect exposure for a young woman on stage under intense spotlights surrounded by a black stage and black theatre. No automatic mode can achieve that. Not even spot metering will be accurate. Only understanding and implementing Manual will achieve a perfect exposure in those conditions. The young woman was his daughter graduating from university,

If you want to rise above the photographic lemmings you need to not just shoot, but understand what's happening and think. Try this diet for a minimum of 3 months or 5,000 shots and I am very confident that your photography will take a giant leap forwards. I fear few will try this because it sounds like hard work.
  1. Use your camera in Manual mode
  2. Fit a prime lens with manual focus
  3. Make no adjustments in Photoshop
Its time for some training and discipline - no pain, no gain. So try my diet, switch on your think button and become a meaner, leaner photographer! 

See what Photography Worksops I'm running at UWA Extension