Bursting Balloons !

Bursting Balloons !
click on image for more

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tonight I managed to wire up my module through a SSR to trigger a spark when I take a picture .... it is working up to 1/1400th sec !

Creating separation

Much of what I post is stuff I am slowly beginning to understand myself - not because I knew it all before .
So a lot of this will sound obvious to those who already know about it but hopefully others will find it useful .... as I record what I am learning in my "photography diary".

Sometimes people get confused as to what the subject of the picture really is - when it is obvious to you .
Quite often you yourself know what you were taking a picture of but somehow it doesn't look the same in the picture .... your brain had a different concept of what you saw as opposed to what the camera produced .
And often I have looked at a good picture and wished I had that kind of scene to photograph in - not realizing that it has been created by the right settings ..... settings that I usually allow my camera to choose for me .

So the trick is to produce an image where there is no doubt as to what the subject is ...  because it's really frustrating when they have to ask what the picture is of or complain about the 'subject' being in the way of the scene when it is 'the scene' !

I just went out to get some example pictures so don't expect too much ...... let's say you wanted a picture of a fence post - you walk up to the fence "click" and there it is ..... when people see it some of them might say " nice picture of a farm scene but that fence post is in the way " .... or " the cows aren't properly in focus " and then your face changes colour a few times as you explain that the subject IS the fence post !

Now the above image was taken with my D50 and the 85mm F1.8 lens at F16 which gives maximum depth of field - for that lens ...... let's try the same picture again at F1.8 ....
Now it's more likely to be recognized as a picture of a fence post !

Selecting the correct aperture and actually using depth of field to make the background out of focus helps to show that it isn't meant to be part of the image in the first place and starts to create a separation between the subject and the background .
We can go a step further .... literally , and move closer to the subject which creates even more separation
F16 still makes some of the background look like it could possibly be part of the scene but much less likely to be so ....

F1.8 removes all doubt as to what the subject is now that we are closer to the subject and have less depth of field ....

So depth of field is one way to make it more obvious what the subject is but you can't always use it !
Why not ?
Well what if you are taking pictures at a wedding , you have the bride as the main subject and perhaps the wedding location in the background as part of the scene - not the main subject but something we want to recognize in the final image as part of the memories of the day ..... we still need to have a good depth of field but show that the bride is the main subject .

I never had time to rustle up a bride so late in the weekend and had to stay with the fence post for now . I won't claim that the final image looks great - maybe as I get time I will be able to set up something decent but for the moment all I am trying to do so show the difference between different settings in exactly the same scene .
We have out 'bridal portrait' again at F16 , there's the "reception hall" in the background . [ the sun had just gone down and things are getting dark .... and cold !]

We may be stuck with this depth of field but we can change our other settings to darken the background ....I had the camera in manual and changed the shutter speed until the meter showed "-1.7"

And then add flash to lighten the subject ! .... now the pole , I mean 'bride' is as bright as originally but the background is darker creating separation between the two while still showing both in the final image .

Of course you can always combine the two ... have a shallow depth of field and darker background with flash added to the subject but I'm not going out in the cold again to set up that shot .... maybe another time ! 
For now though I'll throw in a sample from the pictures I did the other day while trying to work out the settings used in an image on a popular book  , basically it involved darkening the background and lighting the subject to create separation while still showing both but leaving no doubt as to what the subject was .....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

25 May 2010

Tonight I managed to fry a solid state relay earthing it though a coil - I think the current was too much for it .
My hopes are still resting on this wireless flash kit which is now triggering another solid state relay .

That will have to do for tonight , maybe while I'm sleeping I'll dream up an answer to what I am going to switch with this relay , without destroying it , to ignite a mixture and give me a fireball to photograph !

Monday, May 24, 2010

I think I need to modify the spark gap a bit . Tonight I set up some 'almost' empty paint cans and shot them , with the sparking circuit leaning up against the can . I had the sound activated trigger connecting the sparking circuit through its relay and had to unplug the battery each time - I think the load is a bit much for that relay and it sticks a bit .
I shot with the D90 in high speed mode at iso 200 , F9 and 1/1000th sec and only got one real fireball out of the lot , none of the others ignited . Since it was raining I stood in the garage with the can just out of the shelter ....

I should have had a wider lens - I never realized it would creep along the floor .

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flash plus ambient .

In the beginners flash info post it was mentioned that the newer flash modes make automatic adjustments for how well the ambient lighting is exposed . 
When shooting indoors though , the general response of auto flash modes is to try to take over total exposure of the scene at any speeds below 1/60th sec . [ This depends on the model of camera and where you have set the lowest flash speed , also the newer cameras are starting to behave differently when auto-iso is turned on]  .

On to the 'tutorial' , I feel that people learn more by trying things themselves so it would be a good idea for all beginners to take a series of images indoors using flash at varying shutter speeds [ at one particular iso and aperture setting ] to see the difference it makes in the ambient lighting .

First set up a subject [ prettier than mine hopefully !] and take some images at different shutter speeds without flash .

Take note of the different colours of the light source[s] . In this image we have one green tinted light and one yellow tinted light adding to the scene .
I chose iso 800 with this large room to help the flash a bit , F5.6 let in enough light and gave enough depth of field for the situation .
As we increase the shutter speed obviously the lights get dimmer . 1/60th has fixed the 'blown out' aspect of the two lights while still retaining the colourful glow of the two different coloured light sources .

At 1/200th the room loses its glow and things start to look a little 'cold' ....

Now we turn on the flash , direct flash in this case [ for no particular reason ]....

So at 1/200th the flash lights up the room nicely but the ambient lighting doesn't look too healthy .

In the above picture the room is well enough lit but has lost the character of the yellow-cast light on the distant wall so we drop the shutter speed back to 1/60th and try again ....

Now the image has warmed up a bit , there is more of the yellow lighting on the far wall though the white light of the flash has slightly washed it out so we drop the shutter speed to 1/40th to allow more of the ambient to soak into the scene - changing the shutter speed makes no difference to the flash , it stays the same , only the ambient changes .

When taking pictures indoors there is less need to worry about the shutter speed going too low , within reason of course . Full power flash fires at about 1/700th second and as it gets weaker it fires faster , 1/16th power fires at about 1/10 000th second - this is what freezes the action and a little camera shake will only cause a slight blur in the ambient lighting only which is so weak in this situation that it is unlikely to be noticed in most images .
I have seen some good indoor shots taken hand-held at 1/6th second
and they look good because the flash is the main light source and freezes most of the motion .

Once again I will mention that it is best to set your camera up on a tripod [ to maintain the same scene ] and take a series of images , perhaps at the same settings I have chosen if you are unsure of your settings , and take note of the ambient lighting in the scene , with and without flash .
That is the best way to learn and understand what is going on in this situation before attempting it in a real life scene where you are under pressure . Since indoor lighting doesn't vary that much in different locations you will find that the settings won't vary much , besides intentional low-light settings like dance floors . 
Nikon SB800


Tonight I had a few more failed attempts at modifying the circuit board to work with my wireless flash trigger .
I'm not exactly an electronics expert , just an 'Auto Electrician Hack' trying to make this work but once it does .... I can start triggering "fiery events" with it

Friday, May 21, 2010

Trigger failure

Tonight I managed to connect the high voltage trigger to the flash tube to an external wire and an earth wire which produced a 2mm spark . Unfortunately not enough to ignite the mixture .... yet :( 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

settings for fire

Tonight I checked to see that the coil system would ignite white spirits [ benzine ] well enough and tried some different settings to find out what shutter speed I would need for decent flames .

Monday, May 17, 2010

Explosions ???

Tonight I put together another sound activated switch

and instead of wiring it up to a flash I wired it up to my other invention .... the sparking machine !

Now when there is a sound it triggers the coil which switches via a relay at around 20X per second and generates up to 25000 volts .
I took an old power cord and joined the wires to the output and modified the end of the cable to provide a controlled gap for the spark to jump across - probably around 10000 volts .
Now I need to work out how to fill a balloon with gas without letting too much escape , then I place it on top of the power cord , make a noise .... boom !



Saturday, May 15, 2010

How the brain "sees"

Many people wonder why we need to do things like HDR [ high dynamic range] to our pictures to make them look ''right'' .
As a side issue there are many overdone versions of HDR images which gives the technique a bad name but the main idea here is having an image that is easy to look at where the shadows and highlights both look the same way they would to the human eye .
Actually it is more like the way the image looks to the human brain because the brain processes the  information that enters your eyes much like the way the camera's built in computer processes images that fall on the sensor ..... except it can change the iso in different areas of the " brain sensor "- at the same time - in one image .
Why does this image look relaxing ?

The answer is in the question .....
"Relaxing" means not doing any work . The lighting is pretty even so your brain doesn't have to do any work when you look at it ! It just happened to be good lighting as the sun was going down between the clouds and the image needed no extra editing because everything looked right .... you don't often get that type of lighting !
But with some images there are very dark shadows and bright highlights that your brain has to process which is hard work , the opposite of relaxing - more so in real life than when looking at a screen .....
In the late afternoon when you have your back to the sun everything looks relaxing because the light is even and your brain doesn't have to do any processing ... it can just relax while you enjoy the scene .

When you turn and look to the side where there are a lot of shadows
it suddenly has to work harder so you can see detail in the shadow areas and sunlit areas .... not so relaxing ! 

This is even harder [easier?] to understand when you are taking pictures and the results don't look the same as it looked "to your eyes" .

The main thing to remember is that your brain is doing the 'seeing' , your eyes are just transmitting the image to your brain to process . Apparently our eyes can adjust aperture from about 1mm to 9mm and our eyes' 'shutter speed' is around 1/30th second - from what I have read - besides that all I really only know and care about is what I see when comparing images to what a scene looks like ... such as in this example ...

This is what the view looked like to me when I looked out the kitchen window today , this is two images combined .....

 But interestingly when I look away from the scene and blink I see something like this .....

This is because my brain was darkening the centre area and brightening the area around it so that I could see the two different scenes "correctly" .
What two scenes ? 
First there is the outside scene .... I had to set the shutter speed to 1/250th to capture all the detail my eye was seeing .

But it didn't look like that to me on the inside ? I had been sitting at the computer and the inside looked much brighter to me [ to my brain actually ] .
To get the inside looking as it did to my brain I had to drop the shutter speed to 1/5th ...... 50 X slower than 1/250th !

So what has happened to the outdoor scene now ? Well actually that is exactly how it should look in comparison to the inside of the room because it is 50X brighter than the light indoors .... but my brain won't accept that , it has decided that I can see both scenes as it has determined they should look and has adjusted two different areas of my "brain sensor" to accommodate this . Since the eye/brain is limited to about 1/30th second and it can only select one aperture for any one scene it has only one setting left that it can change ... iso .
That's why when I blinked I saw an image of the window , my brains sensor had modified the centre of the scene to darken it .... it had set the centre of the frame to 'iso 100' and the outer part of it to 'iso 5000' ,  which is why blinking showed an image of the bright window , my brain sensor had two different iso settings at once ! 
[ These are made up iso's by the way ;) ]

Because it was such a drastic difference it would take a while before the entire area of my 'brain sensor' was reset back to an even pattern .
This is why people do 'HDR' images , an advanced process of the quick-and-nasty combined image I did in the beginning to show how it looked to my 'brain' ....

On a side note if you are not into shooting multiple scenes with a tripod and editing them later you can fix the problem in one shot with a flash . I shot the same scene again a little later in the day but this time I exposed for the outside scene and used bounce flash off the ceiling to light the inside .... apart from the tacky light fall-off due to the angle I was at this is the way to expose for indoor scenes when you specifically want the outside to look 'right' as well .

After taking these shots I went for a walk in the hills on the farm , halfway up I took this shot  ..... this is how the shadow area looked to my eyes but the background is blown out

And this is how the background looked to my eyes ...notice we are back at that 1/250th that I ended up with inside the kitchen !

 So in this scene the sunlit area is 4X brighter than the shadow area according to how my brain sees it . If I had exposed the shadow area properly it may have been a lot more but my brain told me that since it was shadow area it should look a bit darker than the background [ this needs to be remembered when processing an HDR image for it to look natural ].
So what was lighting the shadow area so that it was brighter than the 1/5th of a second exposure inside my house ?
Well , when I turn around and take a picture I get this light source ....
It is getting its light from the white clouds and blue sky behind me .
This should also make it easier to understand why you need a 'shade' wb setting , a lot of the light in shade areas is blue light coming from the sky which needs to be canceled out by adding a yellow cast that cancels out the blue of the sky ... this is another aspect of how the brains sees ... it can make adjustments for colour casts that your camera actually shows accurately but that is a whole different topic :) .

Friday, May 14, 2010

Different views of images

Pictures don't have to be displayed 'the right way up' . Sometimes they can look better from another angle .
These pictures of rocks reflected in the evening light just seemed to look better when not displayed the right way up . It does have some people asking questions when they see it and assume it is the right way up  .

This one looked like  a baby dinosaur when shown sideways .

Don't be bound by the assumption that all images must be shown the right way up .

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Tonight I lined up the last three eggs with my air rifle . I wasn't expecting much of a show due to the small size of the pellets ..... now I'm washing egg out of my hair and off my lens !

Saturday, May 8, 2010

making money from photography .

Give up !
There's a saying :
" How do you make a small fortune with photography ?
........ Start with a large fortune " !

Actually it's not that bad , just don't expect it to be 'easy money' .
At the end of this article I'll let on 'my secret' idea that I know will work .

But seriously , there are ways , but just be wary of how fast things change in this world .
They bring out cd's and DVD's . Next thing someone buys a big machine for $50 000 that can "re-surface" your scratched discs and charges $10 a time ..... expecting to make their money back on the machine and make a comfortable living for the rest of their lives .
6 Months later the stores are selling diy repair machines for $19  each , cd's and DVD's are much cheaper anyway and some guy is sitting with a $50 000 piece of scrap metal and $45 000 worth of debt .

Image Libraries :

A few years ago I started submitting pictures to an ''image library " where you could upload "good" pictures you have taken and they would sell them for you for half the profit . I sold one image for $150 and received $75 just before the company went down the tubes because "microstock" companies were now selling the same images for $10 each ... dealing with large volumes at lower prices but essentially making more money by gaining all the customers . Is it an ethical issue or simply the evolution of the industry ? That's a different topic entirely but it is being done and we can't change that .
So don't expect any money making venture to be 'secure' because maybe one day people will be giving away images simply to sell advertising on their sites .
One good 'side effect' of joining someone like istock   is that they are very strict on image quality and you will receive a wealth of information simply on rejections of your images for various technical reasons .
If you have the right kind of images you can actually make a living out of microstock but you have to be really good and have the right type of images ... people pictures [ with a signed model release form for each person in the image ] and concepts - things that people will buy for ads and the likes  .
basically I have about 200 images up on istock and have a balance of $81 after 16 months .... most of my images are landscapes which are easy for almost anyone to take so they don't sell too well .
It took hours of uploading and rejections and driving around looking for 'money shots' ..... before I decided to just sit back and leave it as it is for now .

Wedding  photography :

I think this will be one of the few aspects of photography where people can still make a living for a while to come . But with more intelligent compact cameras and so many 'advanced scene modes' it is becoming easier for people to think that "Uncle Bob" can do the same job as a professional wedding photographer to save some money . 
We know that isn't really true but many people are becoming less fussy about image quality as we become a society of people who can take 300 pictures in a day with a compact - And no longer think much of the idea of having the Mona Lisa hanging on our wall all our lives when we can have hundreds of "acceptable quality " images popping up on a digital frame on the wall every few seconds.
Either way wedding photography is an entirely different beast and not something you just decide you are going to do next month .... and it's definitely not easy money though you can do well once you are into it !

Event photography :

"Make money from your images , sell your pictures on our site !"
Sounds easy and exciting doesn't it ? I once spent a weekend in another town photographing a 24 hour cycle event . I took 4000 images , sorted through them for two days , uploaded 1800 of them , 40 at a time , and 'made' $80 .... or basically recovered $80 of the $200 and 4 days it had taken me .

My secret method :

I've had this idea for a while and since I haven't 'had the time' or 'need' to implement it since I have a day job and my weekend time is precious to me I thought I may as well throw it out there for someone else to use .

Horses , or 'dressage' events involve a compact group of events happening one after the other with a lot of snobby people with more money than brains wanting to show off their wealth ... and ride horses in between . Ok , they're not all like that but there are some like that amongst them .

I was in a store talking to the salesman about photography and making money . He told me the following story .... 
" I was at a dressage event firing away /practicing  with my camera when a woman walks up to me and says " That's my daughter on that horse - do you have any pictures where all 4 feet are off the ground ?" . I looked through the images and said "yes I do" . She said " How much do you want for that image ?" and before I could answer and tell her she could have it for free she said " I'll give you $300 for that image" ....... I downloaded them to the laptop and told her that there were three to choose from and she said " I'll take all three , I'll give you $900 " ..... I tried to stop my jaw from hitting the floor , burned them onto a 50cent disc and took the cheque ......" 

Ok , so that's not going to happen every time but it's one of the few places where it can happen .... people racing bikes and stock cars and skateboards don't usually have spare money for photos .... or they want them cheap - horse events , well that's a very different group of people .
Now I once tried taking my laptop and a battery and inverter with a table ... set it all up , took a bunch of pictures - sold $15 worth of prints [3 at $5 each] to a girl who said " My next event is at arena "D" in 15 minutes  if you want to take some more pictures for me " .
I went to the arena , took 70 pictures , we went back to the table and I said to her " This idea of printing is taking too long , I'll sell you the images for $20 each and you can print them later any size you want for cheaper ..... or for $100 you can have all 70 " . She took all 70 and gave me $120 so I could also make her another 4 prints from the images I had just taken so she could "Show her friends"  .......
Now that's $135 from one girl after I started figuring it all out .... it was time to start packing up by now but imagine how it could have gone .

So here's my big plan .
You get something like my photovan and either some charged up batteries or a small "quiet "generator to run a laptop or two plus maybe a small printer for 'show off to friends' prints .... and a whiteboard with the arena numbers listed down the left side and the times of the events across the top .
Now you find some other people who want to make some money with their cameras and send them each to an arena . 
Write across the top of the board " We have images of the following events " and tick off the boxes of the arenas and times you have taken photos .
Tip: There is usually a car parked at the end of each arena - take a picture of that car before you start and when you finish each event - it will be easier to sort later .
Now you have someone collecting memory cards and downloading images in separate files using the arena numbers as a reference and 'sort by date taken' to keep them in the right order .
When the customers come along you can just charge them $100 , or $200 for all their images on a disc .... 50 cents worth of disc .... or sell them a 4 gig memory stick to add more images to later .
With the occasional prints done at $5 each , you pay your other photographers a whopping 50% of each lot of their pictures sold and if there are 4 of them you make 4 X as much as any one of them .
20 events for the day in each arena ... 80 events at $100 - $200 each ... maybe 'only' half of them sell , but then most of the people there will want to show that they can afford it ........=  lots of $$$

I know this will work and do well but there's not much sense keeping it to myself if I'm not going to get around to doing it so all I ask is that you deposit the first million in my account and then you can keep the rest for yourself !

Oh yes - don't ever expect the 'donate' buttons to bring in any money either ;) .
Update : 29/06/2010 . I applied for 'adsense' nearly 6 months ago . Every time I checked my submission was 'awaiting approval' . After quite a few questions on the forums I was told to 'delete cookies' and try again . It was up and running in half an hour last night - it's a pretty shoddy setup because I could have probably had it up and running 5 months ago if their program was more efficient , but anyway once you get approval you can earn money from ads on your site - from the last 20 hours since placing ads my balance is sitting at $1.50 - nothing amazing but it's also not costing me anything to earn it so we'll see how it goes :) . 

Friday, May 7, 2010

36 rules of portraiture

[My new ebook Introduction to flash photography]
Firstly , for those who love to sound rebellious by saying "Rules are made to be broken !" [ Try that on one of your male friends with the feminine head tilt ! ] , there is a big difference between 
1.) totally ignoring rules and
2.)first finding out what they are and why the work in general and then breaking them for a reason to achieve a particular effect in an image .  
I just thought I'd add that after some of the responses to this article .

This tutorial was kindly provided by "Benji" of www.photocamel.com  of "sonshinestudios" contact him via his website if interested in his DVD . 

There are nearly 40 rules (suggestions) that should be followed if one expects his or her portrait images to rise above the "that is a nice picture" to "WOW you did that?" status. I have never seen them assembled into a book and published, other than a book by master photographer Don Peterson written in 1985. He listed 25 of them. Even when Googling it all I get is his rules (posted by myself and one other person) over the past several years on various websites. Several of those rules have become, let's say, "obsolete" in the new millennium. I have garnered these rules over the last 25 years as a professional photographer. Some of them have been modified somewhat by the general relaxation of posing people in the last ten to fifteen years or so.

Why rules in portraiture? Most people would not spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 snapshot that they could have done themselves with a point and shoot camera in their own backyard. They will however spend $100.00 (or more) for an 8 x 10 if it is a beautiful portrait of their loved one, one in which they look good, and if you follow the rules you should get beautiful portraits. Once you learn them you can then judiciously bend or break them a little to achieve that "perfect" image that you see in your mind.

These rules are for PORTRAIT images. Just as there is a difference between a mini van and a sports car, even though both are motor vehicles, both run on gasoline and both will get you to your destination in comfort, there is also a difference between portraiture and fashion images. In portraiture it is all about the face. In fact the word "portrait" literally means "A pictorial likeness or photograph of a face." In fashion photography it is all about the clothing.

While some rules will be applicable to both fashion images and portraiture some will not.

Rule # 1.* No Sleeveless Clothing in The Head and Shoulders Portrait.* I took the image on the left, cloned her blouse several times in order to cover her right upper arm.* Note the difference as to where your eye is drawn when you view the image. In a portrait the first thing you should see is the face.

Rule # 2. "No shorts in group portraiture."* This happened to me twice this year (for the first time in years!)* Even though we specifically state in our clothing consultation NO SHORTS we still get people who show up in shorts.* When this family called, they said they wanted to be photographed in blue jeans and asked if that is OK.* I said yes and told mom to make sure the shirts/blouses are all the same color.* I of course was expecting long blue jeans NOT shorts.* The image below is one of the poses.* Note how dad's and his youngest daughter's bare legs really attract attention.* That is because our eyes are attracted to bare skin, and that is why the ONLY bare skin that should show in PORTRAITURE is the face. Remember, the FACE is what portraiture is all about.

Next four rules, (since I have two images that show four problems!)

3. Avoid Bright Colors and Bold Patterns in Clothing. The idea of a portrait is to see the face of the subject. Brightly colored clothing and bold patterns draw the eye away from the subject's face. (This is especially true in the head and shoulders portrait.)

4. Avoid Football Shoulders-The body should not be turned straight to the camera.

5. Solid Pyramidal Base - The body should not be turned 90 degrees away from the camera. 45 degrees is usually the ideal angle for the head and shoulders portrait. Posing someone at a 90 degree angle to the camera does not allow the head to appear to have proper support. After posing the subject at a 45 degree angle, bring the arms out to form the sides of the pyramid.

The above rules are true whether you are shooting a head and shoulders image or a full length family portrait. My examples will be of the head and shoulders image. I borrowed* these images from my video "Photographing The High School Senior Girl in the New Millenium."* Also note I broke the "no sleeveless clothing" rule.* Remember, the main thing in portraiture is to keep the main thing (the face of the subject) the main thing.

Lastly, Sit Tall- (Rule 7) Do not allow your subject to slump over or get round shouldered. Note how May has slumped over in both of these images making her look short and dumpy.

Rule # 6, Correct Posing Stool Height- I have found that a 24 inch tall stepladder works wonderfully as a posing stool for nearly all of my traditional head shots, provided my subject is not very overweight. For the overweight subject use a taller stool to allow their paunch to drop. I added a wider top rung (the seat) to the wooden ladder because most people's buns are wider than 4 inches!

In the image I posted below, you can see my modified stepladder.* It also shows how raising the leg closest to the camera will tilt the torso (and the shoulders) slightly away from the camera, which happens to be Rule 9.* This rule applies to females only.*

9. (Females) Lean Slightly Away From The Camera.* I also place a small wooden wedge under the buttock closest to the camera. This will keep the shoulder that is closest to the camera higher than the other one, but will still allow the subject to relax. I added "sides" to my widened top rung with slots on both sides for the wedge to fit into.

Next rule,

Rule 8. Lean Forward Slightly-"Over the belt buckle." This eliminates the static straight up and down look and will give a feeling of movement and motion to the portrait. In the left image below she is seated bolt upright. In the right hand image she is leaning over the belt buckle to camera left and also slightly to the left rear. I then had her turn her head back toward the main light at camera right.

Rule 10. Project The Chin - Especially if your subject has a full or double chin. By projecting the chin out toward the camera and using a slightly higher camera position the double chin can be nearly eliminated. Photoshop can finish the rest!

11. Proper Head Tilt- Never tip a man’s head to the high (feminine) shoulder as he will look feminine. Women's heads can be tipped toward either shoulder, but the feminine shoulder is more appealing.

Female head tilt. Note that the female looks good in either the masculine head tilt, or the feminine head tilt. In some poses the masculine head tilt works better for the female, especially if the background or the set she is posed in is a more masculine background or set.

Rule # 12. Proper Eye Direction-Generally speaking, in males the eyes should follow the direction of the nose.* For females there should be slightly more whites of the eyes on one side than on the other.*

Rule 12a. The eyes should never be turned so far in their sockets that there is no white area on one side, and you should not shoot into the whites of the eyes.* A slightly higher camera angle will give more whites at the bottom than at the top which is more appealing in images of young females.*

12b. The catchlights from the main light are considered correctly placed when they appear at the eleven o'clock or one o'clock position in both eyes. One catchlight is normally preferred because there is only one sun but two or more is acceptable. One catchlight per eye suggests thoughtfulness; more than one creates a look a merriment. In multiple catchlight images the catchlight from the main light should be the brightest.

In the image below the subject is staring up into space. Some wise sage once said; "The eyes are the windows to the soul."* This is not to say that every image must have the subject looking directly at the lens, but it seems most people like images that the subject is looking at the camera (them) and sales data will bear this out to be true.*

Rule 13. Proper Camera Height - Generally speaking, the camera lens should be at about eye level for head and shoulders portraits, chin level to chest level for ¾ length and chest level to waist level for full length portraits. An even lower camera height for heavy set brides, that are posed standing, will make her appear taller and more "regal."

This rule is perhaps the one I break most often. Just as I will not tilt the head of a 60 year old female as much as I will of a 16 year old female, I also don't usually stand on a step ladder or stool to photograph a 60 year old woman, but I do for a girls high school senior portrait. A higher camera position in head and shoulders portraits of high school seniors will give their eyes a more "glamorous" look. If the 60 year old woman wants to look glamorous, I will of course use a high camera position (or if she has a double chin) it all depends of the final use of the image.

In the image below, I broke rule 13. I was on a step ladder about nine feet above the subject in the second image and at ground level for the first image. Note how much thinner she appears in the second image. This works best for subjects seated on the floor. Note how the background "moved up" when I raised the camera position up. You may want to pre-position the background somewhat lower to compensate for this.

Rule 14. Use The 1-2-2 or The 1-3-2 Posing Technique. 
This technique is used mostly on younger females and will add that "extra touch" to your images to raise them above what the other guy is doing.* A brief description is in order however.

"The 1-3-2 posing technique is where the body is turned 45 degrees away from the camera and also away from the main light source (position # 1) then the face is turned back beyond the camera position additional 20 degrees or so (position # 3) then the eyes are brought back to the camera position (position # 2.)* The main light is always cross lighting the female form in this technique and will draw a pleasing short light pattern on the face."* This is rather wordy so I will attach several images to show the technique.* This technique can be used for head shots, waist up, 3/4 length or full length poses when seated or when standing and is usually used only on young females.


P.S. I demonstrate in detail this technique in my video. PM me for further information.

Attached Images

Another, this time a 3/4 length and outdoors.

Another, seated this time.

Males usually look best in the 1-2-2. Females usually look best in the 1-3-2 technique.  The images below shows both.

Rule 15. Avoid Flat Lighting. *Portraits usually look best with one side brighter than the other side. *When the shadow side of the face is closest to the lens it is called short lighting. *Short lighting will make the face appear narrower and more slender. *If the shadow is on the side opposite of the lens it is called broad lighting. *Broad lighting will make the face appear wider and heavier. * Flat lighting is where there are no shadows on the face at all. *On camera flash will give you flat lighting. *In the image below, the flat lit image was lit with my home made ring light, the other with a 24 x 32 inch softbox with louvers at camera right.

The main light should enter the same side of the female's face that the part in her hair is on. This will allow the main light to "get under" her hair and brighten up the eye that is on the shadow side (preventing "trapped eye.") Lighting the face this way will also prevent shadows running under her hair along the cheek line.

Rule 16. Watch the Nose and Cheek Line-The face should not be turned so far away from the camera that the nose will break or nearly break the far cheek line. This will make the nose look large. 16 a. The far eye should either been seen completely or not be seen at all, but one should never photograph the face so that only 1/2 of the far eye shows. Note that this pose will also cause the subject's eyes to have too much white on one side of the eye as opposed to the other side of the eye (a violation of rule 12.)

Rule 17. Avoid Clutter - Simplicity is usually best. *For example too many props in one image. A background that is too busy, or in sharp focus. Another one is a brightly lit background, or a background with large areas of bright sunshine or patches of white sky. These things will attract the eye to them rather than to the subject.

17 a. Busy clothing will create confusion for the eye. *The eye should immediately be drawn and rest upon the subject. *Using a telephoto lens with a large aperture will give you short depth of field which will blur the background.

In the left image below, the pattern of the blouse is too busy and the background is too sharp. These two problems have been corrected in the image on the right. A simple blouse change and moving her forward about 12 feet (and stepping back with the camera 12 feet) allowed the background to be softened.* The background could also be blurred in Photoshop if your DOF is more than what you anticipated, but I like to get it right to begin with and leave Photoshop for enhancing. Note in both images the back arm is completely and totally visible. I feel it looks best to have the entire arm visible rather than the upper arm/shoulder area visible then the elbow/middle arm not visible and then the hand suddenly reappearing at the wrist.

Rule 18. Crop Between The Joints, Not At them. Cropping at a joint makes the subject appear amputated. Also when cropping leave room for the subject to breathe (room in front of their face) and leave room for the subject to think (don't severely crop off the top of their head.) Generally if you crop off the top of the head you cannot also crop off very much in front of their face at the same time. If you do they will look crowded in the frame.

Rule 19. Watch Recessed Cheek Line with Glasses. I usually have the subject obtain empty eyeglass frames which will solve the problem immediately. Another suggestion is to shoot at least one image without the glasses which will give you a good set of eyes. You can then in Photoshop add them to the image that the subject has chosen to purchase. This technique will also take care of the distortion caused by eyeglass lens refraction which makes the subjects eyes look larger or smaller than what they really are.

Rule 20. Don’t Overuse Hair and Kicker Lights-The hair light should kiss the hair, not blast it. Same for the kicker lights.

Rule 21. If It Bends, Bend It-This rule is perhaps the single most important rule. 21 a. Wherever there is a joint, “break” it. Combining these rules along with Rule 8 (Lean the body over the belt buckle, Rule 9 Lean slightly away from the camera Rule 31 If the subject has two of them make them different and lastly Rule 32 (A general rule) Avoid 90 Degree Arms will create a very dynamic image devoid of any staticness. These rules are basically true whether the pose is a head and shoulders pose or a full length seated pose.

Note in the posted image nothing is straight (other than her wrists) or straight up and down. She is at a 45 degree angle to the camera, leaning back, her hips are canted, her shoulders are slightly tipped, her head is tilted, her back leg is bent, both elbows are bent, all of her fingers are curled and even her eyes are not straight in their sockets (Rule 12.) All of this bending, leaning, tilting, twisting and turning also helps in following Rule 31, If The Subject Has Two of Them, Make Them Different. Note her hands are not at the same height nor are they across from one another, her elbows are at different heights, her knees (even though you can't see them) are at two different heights.

Rule 22. Don’t Stack The Hands or Clasp Them Together-Seperate them and place them apart and between the joints. Hide the rear hand if possible in group portraits. I've posted three images showing how this rule was broken three different ways. 22a. Don't place an elbow directly on top of the knee. Place the lower arm area that is 1/2 way between the elbow and wrist 1/2 way between the hip and knee. That way the elbow does not end at the knee forming an uninteresting straight line.

Rule 23. Subdue the Near hand-The hand that is nearest to the lens will appear larger than the other hand especially if it is held very close to the lens (foreshortening.) Feet or legs pointed toward the camera will also look elongated due to foreshortening.

23 a. Don't project the hands toward the lens and keep them within the range of focus. 23 b. Generally speaking, if the hand is above the subject's waist, the fingers should be directed upwards.* If below the waist, the fingers should be directed down.* *The little finger side of the hand photograph's best.* I will post an image that does NOT break this rule.

Rule 24. Don’t Photograph The Back of Women's Hands.* The sides are much more graceful than the flat of the hand. 24a. Fists are masculine, open hands are feminine.* Note how much more graceful the edges of the hands of the young lady in the second image looks when compared to the flat back of the hand in the first image. I will post an additional image (a horizontal) in my next posting also showing posing the sides of the hands.

Another pose showing rule 24 and how I posed the hands so the sides of the hands show rather than the flat back.

Rule 25. Place the Weight on the Back Foot- and shift the hips (with standing poses.) This will put the hips and shoulders at a pleasing angle. Ask the subject to point her foot that is nearest to the camera toward the camera and shift her weight to the back hip. *This means the front leg and foot will have no weight on it. *She should then bend her knee slightly toward the other leg. *This will give a pleasing “S” curve to her body.

As you may have already noticed, some rules are for women only, some for men only, some for couples and groups only. Then there are rules for seated poses only, standing poses only and some work best on younger subjects as opposed to more mature subjects.*

Rule 26. (Couples Portraiture) Do Not Photograph Two Heads at the Same Height- Ideally the eyes of the shorter subject (usually the female) should be at about the same height as the mouth of the taller subject.

Rule 27. (Couples or Group Portraiture) Have No Head Directly Above Another-All heads should not only be at different heights but also not directly above (or below) another subject. The eyes of the subject that is lowest in the group should be at about the same level as the chin of the next highest subject. For example in the image below note the eyes of the young lady at camera right are at the same level as the chin of her older sister at camera left. You may have to have someone take off their shoes or stand on something to get this effect. Lots of photographers use old hard bound books with the covers taped together with gaffers tape for this very purpose. On book will raise someone up about 1 inch, 2 books will raise him or her 2 inches!

Rule 28. Avoid Crotch Shots-Raising the leg that is closest to the camera in a standing pose will prevent shooting into the subject’s crotch. *In groups, turning the subject's body to a 45 degree angle and keeping the legs together should prevent shooting into the crotch. *This rule has been "relaxed" in the last decade or so for high school senior images, especially for boys and to a somewhat lesser extent for gals.

Rule 29. Use The Right Key and Good Taste-Generally speaking a subject dressed in all white looks best in a medium or high key background. Conversely, a subject dressed in dark clothing looks best on a medium or dark (low key) background. Note in the above image (the gal in rule number twenty eight above) I broke this rule because she is dressed in black with a black prop but on a white background. Again this rule is frequently broken especially in high school senior portraiture.
Rule 30. If The Subject Has Two of Them, Make Them Different.* Feet, knees, arms, hands and elbows at different levels are more interesting than when placed side by side.* Note in the posted image that everything that can be made different has been made different. His hips are not level, his shoulders are not level, his head is tipped to the masculine shoulder, he is leaning slightly, his knees, feet, arms, hands and elbows are not side by side but are placed at different and multiple levels. Sameness leads to boringness in a photographic image.

After you "rough in" the pose you will most likely want to refine certain things. When refining a pose, do the least important areas first then as you progress toward the actual capture make the final refinements on the most important areas last.

Rule 31. Avoid "90 Degree" Arms (a general rule for females.) Don Blair called these arms "Carpenter's T square arms."
Gently flowing lines usually look best in portraits of women. I broke this rule in my example image of rule 25 above. In my bridal example below I followed it.

Rule 32. Don't Shoot Into a Bare Armpit. Either cover it with something or raise the opposite arm and bring the near arm down. *I've seen bare armpits covered with the young lady's long hair, flowers, toul, strips of cloth, and small props. With long sleeved clothing shooting into an armpit is usually not a problem. *In the example image I covered one with her long hair, and I heavily retouched the other. She didn't buy this image.

Rule 33. (Group Portraiture) Have the subjects at either end of the image face in toward the center. *This will keep the viewer's attention on the subjects. *I also use this technique when placing the preview images in my high school senior folios. *The images on the left side of the folio all face to the right and those on the right face left. *The master painters of the Rennaissance used this technique to keep the viewers attention within the painting.

Rule 34. Use A Telephoto Lens - Short telephoto lenses will prevent foreshortening (covered in rule # 23) which is where objects nearest the lens will appear larger than objects farther away.* Use of a short telephoto lens in group portraiture will make all the faces approximately the same size regardless of whether they are in the front row or the rear row. I used a short telephoto lens in virtually every one of the images in this tutorial.

Rule 35. Avoid Posing A Bride Kneeling on the Floor.* The wedding gown is designed to look correct and usually flows beautifully and therefore photographs best when the bride is standing.* A bride seated on a posing stool for a head and shoulders image or for a waist up or 3/4 length shot is of course perfectly acceptable.

Rule 36. Hand Placement. Use good taste in the placement of hands. The hand(s) of the client should not disappear between his or her legs and the hand(s) of a young lady should not be placed on top of either of her breasts, nor should a young man's hands be on the buttocks or breasts of the female client. When photographing hands watch that the middle finger doesn't protrude out further than the rest of the fingers.


As mentioned earlier, these "rules" are really guidelines. Once you know them you can judiciously break them.

Ok , since posting this john Domeney gave this suggestion ..... we'll call it.....

Rule 37.  
Another rule I try to use is identify the clients larger eye, there is almost always a slight difference in size, and put it further away, so both eyes appear to be similar size.
You can imagine the effect if you put it the other way around.

Also see "Portraiture tips" by Steve Webb .