Quick Tips for Taking Better Portraits from Nikon

Quick Tips for Taking Better Portraits from Nikon
JUNE 9, 2017
BEGINNER
Quick Tips for Taking Better
Portraits
Suggested Lens choices, exposure settings
and focus modes
Featuring GARY SMALL
© Gary Small
D300, AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF lens, 1/30 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400, aperture priority, matrix
metering, SB-900 flash (flash head tilted up and a reflector behind the unit spread out the light
and directed it towards the subject). In this shot, the white balance was set to flash, and exposed
the subject's skin tone correctly. Notice though, the light on the background is warmer, from the
tungsten lighting fixtures.
Anyone can take a well exposed, flattering portrait by following a few simple tips.
By using a lens that will flatter, not distort your subject; lighting and exposing the
scene well; and correctly focusing on the subject, you're guaranteed a great shot.
To help you, we've put together suggested starting points for you to try. Read on...
Suggested Settings:
Lens Choice: For a portrait, you want to use a standard to short-telephoto lens,
between 50mm to 200mm. NIKKOR prime lenses such as the 60mm, 85mm,
105mm or 200mm lenses; zooms: 70-200mm, or the telephoto end of the 2470mm, 24-120mm lenses are ideal choices. If the lens you choose is too wide,
such as 17mm, it will distort your subject’s face in an unflattering way. You also
don’t want too long a telephoto, like a 300mm lens, because it will compress your
subject’s face and not look natural. Also, the longer the lens, the further back you
will likely have to stand when taking the photograph, which isn’t conducive to
directing your portrait subject during a shoot.
White Balance: Depending upon the ambient lighting of your scene or location,
you’ll want to set the white balance to match the available light. If you’re shooting
indoors, using regular household lighting, set the WB to Incandescent (it is the
lightbulb symbol). If you are going to rely on the flash from the Speedlight
exclusively, then set the WB to Flash (it’s the lightening bolt symbol). If you are
shooting in mixed light, you will want to create a custom preset.
Metering: It is suggested that beginning photographers use Matrix Metering.
If instead, you use Center Weighted Metering, you’ll have to place your subject in
the center of the frame, press the shutter button half-way so the camera can focus
and meter on the subject, (remember to focus on your subject’s eyes), and then
press the AE Lock (if your D-SLR has one, check your manual), and recompose
your photograph, fully depressing the shutter button when you are happy with the
composition. Instead of using the AE Lock, you can keep the shutter button
depressed half-way while you recompose the photograph, fully depressing the
button when you are ready to take the photograph.
© Gary Small
D800, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens, 1/125 sec., f/5, ISO 100, aperture priority,
matrix metering, built-in pop-up fill-flash. The focus is on the subject, and because of the
aperture chosen, she is sharp and the background is out of focus.
Focusing: Set the camera to Single Area AF, to ensure that the area you focus on
is sharp. For a portrait, the eyes should be the sharpest part of the image. If your
final image will have the subject off-center in the frame, you will have to make sure
the focus point is set correctly. You can do this in two different ways.
Set a focus point that is at the furthest end of the grouping of focus points. This
way, when you compose your photograph, the focus point will correctly fall on your
subject, ensuring accurate focus.
You can also use the AF Lock button (if your D-SLR has one, check your manual)
to lock the AF point on the area of the image you want in focus. To use this
method, make sure you are in AF-S mode.
Turn on the audible beep for confirmation that your subject is in focus.
Especially when shooting in low light, turn on the Focus Assist Lamp.
If manually focusing use Rangefinder and check results at 100% playback zoom.
Suggested Exposure Starting Points: The exposure for any photograph is
made up of the combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity. Your
exposure will depend upon the lighting in your scene. A good starting place is to
set the ISO to 400, aperture to f/5.6. Because you’ll likely want to control the
sharpness of the background, set the camera’s mode dial to Aperture Priority. In
this mode, you set the Aperture, and the camera selects the corresponding shutter
speed. You’ll want a minimum of 1/100th of a second shutter speed. If there is not
enough light for a fast shutter speed, you will have to increase the ISO. Try setting
it to ISO 800 and meter the scene again.
While many folks will use a very wide open aperture to completely blur the
background, the zone of focus may be too narrow to ensure your subject will be in
focus, so it is better to be cautious and use an f/stop that will offer some depth-offield.
© Gary Small
D300, AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF lens, 1/30 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400, aperture priority, matrix
metering, SB-900 flash. In this example, the flash was direct, lighting our two subjects. Because
of the shallow depth of field, they're in focus but the foreground and background are not.
Using a Speedlight. If there is not enough light in your scene, you may want to
use a Nikon Speedlight for additional lighting. There are a number of ways you
can use a Speedlight to add illumination onto your subject. Try to set up your
lighting and test it before your subjects are ready for their photographs, this will
help you learn your equipment.
Remember to watch for harsh shadows behind your subject(s). If you’re in a room
with a low enough ceiling (under 10’) and it is white, you can bounce the light off
of the ceiling. Remember that bounced light will pick up the color of the surface it
is bounced against, so you want a white surface to bounce light off of.
If you have access to multiple Speedlights, use them. Also, turn on all of the
lighting in the room, indoors, to increase the amount of light available.
You can also use the Diffuser that came with your Speedlight to soften the quality
of light hitting your portrait subject.
When using a Speedlight, remember that the sync speed of the flash unit to the
camera is the fastest you can set your shutter speed to. For example, if the sync
speed is 1/250th of a second, you won’t be able to use a faster shutter speed
unless your camera offers the FP high-speed sync setting, and you select it.
If your subject is backlit, use fill flash, with the Dome attachment on the
Speedlight, and do not bounce.
© Gary Small
D800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm G
ED VR lens 1/250 sec., f/4, ISO
100, aperture priority, matrix
metering. In this example, the
subject is partially lit by direct
sunlight and partially in shadow
from the tree branches overhead.
© Gary Small
D800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm G
ED VR lens 1/250 sec., f/4, ISO
100, aperture priority, matrix
metering, SB-900 used as fill-flash.
By adding fill-flash, the deep
shadows are filled in and the
overall light on our subject is better
balanced.
© Gary Small
D800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm G
ED VR lens 1/640 sec., f/4, ISO
100, aperture priority, matrix
metering. In this shot the sun, to the
left of the subject, is the main light
source. Because she's facing the
camera, the sun is directly lighting
half of her face, with shadow on the
far side of her face.
© Gary Small
D800, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm G
ED VR lens 1/640 sec., f/4, ISO
100, aperture priority, matrix
metering. In this shot our subject
has turned her face to the sun, so
the sunlight is fully lighting the
mask of her face, giving the image
a more dynamic feel.
Recap:
Lenses
Primes: 60mm, 85mm, 105mm or 200mm
Zooms: 24-70mm, 24-120mm, 70-200mm
White Balance:
Match the light of your scene
If your main light source is your Speedlight, set the WB to Flash
Metering Mode:
Matrix Metering
Focus:
AF-S mode for focus lock
Single Area AF
Center AF Bracket for very best result
Don’t shoot wide open unless you want a very shallow depth-of-field.
If you are shooting wide open, check the focus of the image after
you’ve captured it at 100% playback zoom.
Turn on the audible beep and focus assist lamp.
If manually focusing use Rangefinder and check results at 100%
playback zoom.
Exposure:
Minimum 1/100th of a second shutter speed
If the lighting in the scene is not enough for a shutter
speed/aperture combination that you want to use (i.e. too slow for
you to handhold), increase the ISO
Using Speedlights:
Watch for shadows. You can soften shadows by using the diffuser
that came with your Speedlight or bouncing the light.
Bounce off of low, white ceilings (under 10’).
Remember the sync speed of the camera, and do not exceed that
shutter speed unless you are using the FP high speed sync setting
If your subject is backlit, use fill-flash, with the dome attachment and
don’t bounce.
To see more of Gary Small's photography, visit his website at www.jsmallphoto.com.
Featuring
GARY SMALL
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