Tech Talk – Portraits in the Park & Gardens

Spring is here in Melbourne, although one may be forgiven thinking it is actually Summer – it’s been quite warm.  Spring means getting outside, Weddings, Family Picnics, Outings to the Park etc. It also a very busy time for Photographers it seems. I have been doing several family portrait sessions in the park and gardens, I have encountered a few pitfalls with doing this against studio shoots.

The best time to shoot indoors is any time you like, as you set lights up anyway you see fit. Outdoors the best time to shoot is early in the morning or just before sunset. The light is gentle and soft and more forgiving. Bright sun creates deep, uneven shadows and can make faces look distorted, a little soft muted light is good, but not harsh light. The other problem is everyone is squinting, not a good look either. The other thing to factor in, especially in Australia, is people standing around in midday sun with no protection leads to really bad sunburn. So stay in the shade, don’t forget the sunscreen and try and keep the shoots short.

Unfortunately these ‘best times to shoot’ does not suit many families, especially the early morning part; “Sure we can do a beach shoot, I’ll meet you and all the kids at 5:30am”. There are probably some who are up for it, but not many. Most people seem to think a bright sunny day is best for photography; little do they know it can be a nightmare! The other problem is that some parks actually close quite early and are not open late enough to shoot just before sunset, silly really, in summer that is the best time to visit……..picnic dinner in the park while the sun is setting!

But you have to work with what you are dealt, so this shoot was approx 2pm (really bright harsh sunlight) so we looked for a nice shady spot to take some images, I tried to keep the camera down low as to avoid the sky, I could not quite avoid all of it, so I either cropped it out or Dodged the bright light blowout in Lightroom. The photo of Baby Mia is actually in her Stroller with the hood down, worked quite nicely actually, the shadows were a little strong, but the image was well suited to Low Key.

I wish I had for this shot, but usually take for others; my reflector. It is difficult if you are shooting on your own, however I have bought a little arm and stand for mine so I do not have to hold it while I shoot, failing that with my new remote I can hold the reflector and shoot at the same time. Using a reflector means you can even out the shadows and soften the light a little.

ISO – this can be an issue, remember that even though it might be bright out, you are (hopefully) in the shade, so up the ISO a bit to counteract that. Working with children? Up the ISO to contend with their movement and fidgeting. Working with larger group, up the ISO again…..lots of people lots of fidgeting and hands and things become out of focus. With today’s modern DSLR cameras it is not too grainy to shoot on ISO 400 – 600, and sometimes even a touch higher.

Aperture – Don’t forget to alter your aperture to suit the shot, a close up of one individual, you might like a nice bokeh, so set the aperture high……f/1.8 through to f/4. Shooting top third of body or adding one or two extra people try lowering to f/4 – f/9, four or more f/11…….if it is a large group you may need something lower to get everyone in focus, perhaps f/11 – f/22.

Shutter Speed – Depending on how many people in the frame, how old they are, you probably want your shutter speed as high as you can get it, without upsetting the ISO and aperture. A tripod is handy, but honestly if the shot requires a tripod, then someone is going to end up blurry! If you are using a tripod simply to hold the camera, that’s cool…….frees you up to run around and do other things like reflectors, re positioning or catching the attention of small children etc.

Dappled light can also be a pain if it is too strong, although depending on the shot can work quite nicely, the one below is quite late in the day, when the light is much softer. Granted they are far in the distance.

Werribee Park Mansion
Werribee Park Mansion

This next pic is truly awful for many reasons………I have not really edited it at all, infact it will be a throw away. Apart from the photo bomber in the front, several faces are blurred and the light is extremely uneven on the various faces, plus not everyone is looking in the same direction, let alone the camera, some don’t even have their eyes open! This was a test shot, to check out the lighting………we moved a little bit to the right after this and I altered the camera angle. Hint if the subject is squinting as the light is too bright, chances are the shot is not going to work.

Photo Bomber
Photo Bomber

Harsh bright light can work, see below two images, however I did use a CPL filter to help disperse some of the light, I also softened the image quite a bit in Lightroom, dropping the exposure down, while still keeping the bright harsh light in evidence, just not completely blown out. The harshness of the light gives the impression of a hot sunny day; which it actually was.

Summer Fun
Summer Fun
Walking with Grandpa
Walking with Grandpa

Well that’s about it for now, I thought perhaps some of these ideas may help someone, or even jog the brain cells for someone who has been shooting inside all Winter.

Til next time, happy snapping………..

-Julz