This is the in a series called "Picture Perfect" about how to take great holiday photos.
The day after Thanksgiving I realized I could no longer procrastinate. It was time to mail holiday cards. In years past, I would have gone to Borders and picked up a box, but I have a camera now. I can create my own card.
I decided to experiment with do-it-yourself portrait and found it wasn't that difficult. It only took an hour to come up with a good recipe for a happy holiday portrait.
Try this at home. You'll need the following "ingredients:"
- A large source of diffused light. It will serve as the main or key light. I used my picture window on a cloudy day. The clouds softened and spread the light so it wouldn't produce hard shadows. If the sun is shining, then pull the curtains or blinds to control the light from window.
- A secondary light that can be placed opposite the key light. The secondary light is called a fill because it illuminates darkness and lightens shadows. Make sure the fill is less bright than the key light. I used a torch lamp with a compact fluorescent bulb. The light is directed upward, so it will bounce off the ceiling.
- A tripod for the camera.
- A plain wall for the background. Have some props if you wish. My husband is a drum maker, so I included some of his instruments.
- If you're in the photo, you'll need a camera with a self-timer, or a friend to trip the shutter for you. If you're by yourself, use a "stand-in" — a dolll, a stuffed animal — so you can frame the picture and focus correctly.
Here's what you do:
- Sit or stand so the key light is on your left or right side. (See photo No. 2 for a schematic.) If you can, turn yourself so you're on a slight angle. Don't sit in front of the window, unless you want to be in silhouette. Sit well away from the background to reduce the shadows.
- Place the fill light on the other side, opposite the key light. It doesn't have to be directly parallel to the key. If you need help, use the schematic.
- Place the camera on the tripod in front of you. The distance between you and the camera will depend on your lens and your creativity. Frame the shot to your liking.
- Choose your white balance. I used the automatic white balance setting because I had natural and fluorescent lights.
- Choose the shutter speed and aperture. Again, I let the camera help me. I used aperture priority mode, and let the camera set the shutter speed. I did, however, manipulate the settings to underexpose slightly. If you want, you can go fully automatic, and let the camera make all the choices: white balance, aperture, shutter speed and auto focus.
- Take the photo. If you're using the self-timer, give yourself enough time to pose before the camera trips.
- Take several shots. In this case, the more photos the better.
- Manipulate the photo in your digital editing software if you want. Or go directly from the camera to the printer.