This is a guest article by Denton Taylor who takes most streetstyle photos for 40+Style.
Over the last months you have been able to admire the fabulous photographs Denton Taylor has been taking for this blog. You will find most of them here.
I asked him to share some of his photography tips, so we can all learn from him and take better pictures ourselves. So without further ado, here is Denton!
If you’re like me, you might visit several OOTD and fashion-related websites every day.
You may also have your own blog and post your own OOTD images. And every time you do, you have this vague sense of unease. You can see that your images are not as good as those on some of the large famous blogs, but you just can’t put your finger on why. You might even have asked a friend who’s ‘into’ photography, and the first thing she did was laugh at your camera phone or small digicam and tell you to ‘get a real camera’.
This article will mostly not do that.
How to take the best images with the equipment that you have
It will teach you how to make the best images you can with the equipment you have (so you’ll have more money for the important things in life, like shoes).
There is absolutely NO reason why you cannot make well lit, properly exposed, professional looking OOTD images with something as simple as a camera phone (there, I said it, and like most photographers, I hate camera phones).
Of course this does not mean you will be able to make any type of image that you see in magazines or on the big blogs that are shot by pro photographers; for some things, equipment does matter.
But by understanding the limitations of your equipment, and working within them, you will still be able to turn out excellent photographs for your OOTD blog and your family photos.
Let’s very briefly discuss equipment, since everyone hates these discussions, right?
I will start by perhaps surprising you and stating that, all other things being equal, the primary determinant of image quality is the photographer; with the secondary determinant the size of the sensor used to capture the image, and the quality of the lens used to focus the image on the sensor.
While that sinks in, there are three types of tools we have to make images.
- The ubiquitous camera phone. Teeny tiny sensor. Teeny tiny lens. But, given good light, perfectly capable of putting quality OOTD images on the internet.
- Pocket digital cameras. Bigger sensor, in some cases much bigger. Better lens, in some cases much better. In general, you get what you pay for.
- Interchangeable lens cameras. For a long time, this meant Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras. We also now have another type known as mirrorless cameras, which are smaller in form factor. The biggest sensors of all, and, availability of high quality lenses (the so-called ‘kit’ zoom that came with your DSLR is only a medium quality lens as we shall see).
How you dress and pose yourself is entirely up to you.
Making a quality photograph of your dress and pose requires attention to the four following items:
- Quality and direction of light;
- Type of background;
- Achieving proper exposure;
- Achieving sharp focus.
1. Quality and direction of light
Do not, ever take photos in direct sunlight!
The light is harsh, unflattering, will be full of deep ugly shadows, and will make your clothes look terrible. Yes, they do it in Vogue, but the photographers use all kinds of diffusers and reflectors to soften the light. Do not shoot in direct sun!
Do not, ever take photos indoors!
There is hardly ever enough light. Smaller sensor cameras like phones will produce grainy and ugly photos. You may not have enough light and the camera shutter will stay open a long time, resulting in blurred photos. Yes they do it in Vogue but there are actually all kinds of lights in those photos masquerading as no lights. Do not shoot inside!
Your choices to produce images with soft, beautiful light are simply, cloudy days; and what photographers refer to as open shade. Open shade is when you find a shady spot on a sunny day, for example, under a tree, on a porch, at the side of a building, etc. The best kind of open shade occurs when you can pose in front of something where the light drops of behind; a deep porch, a tunnel, an overhang, etc.
Consider, for example, this photo of my friend and fashion blogger Charity, with her Karl Lagerfeld tribute T-shirt.
Posed in New York’s Central Park, the light striking her is soft and beautiful. There is texture in her black skirt, and the light falls off into the tunnel, so that there is no distracting background (of which we speak later). This photo is completely achievable with a camera phone!
So, open shade or cloudy days! Just one thing to be careful of on cloudy days. Make sure the day is not too dark and cloudy, else the shutter may have to stay open too long which could blur the photo. Try and achieve a minimum shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second.
2. Type of background
If you are lucky enough to have a DSLR and an appropriate lens (a 50mm 1.8, for example) you have more options available to you to alter the appearance of the background behind the subject (if you are not so lucky, don’t worry, just keep reading).
By putting your camera in ‘A’ (aperture priority mode) and adjusting the aperture, you can blur out the background to give a soft and appealing appearance. Consider the following two photos of the lovely fashion blogger Nisha.
The first was taken at f/11. As you can see the background is in focus and distracting.
The second was taken at f1.8. The background still gives a sense of place, but it is blurred out and does not compete with the subject.
What you could buy
This will be the only time in the whole article I will suggest you buy something. If you have a DSLR and you are doing this type of photography, may I suggest you put the kit lens aside and get yourself a 50mm f/1.8 lens. Canon and Nikon both sell them new for a bit over $100, and you can get them for less on the used market. That lens will be much sharper optically than the kit zoom , and will allow you to shoot at f/1.8 to throw the background out of focus as I did here.
Shooting with a camera phone? You will not be able to throw a background out of focus. But all is not lost. All you need to do is to find a plain background! It could be the side of your house, another blank wall, or anything that keeps the eye on you.
Consider this photo of a woman in an interesting hat, taken at Fashion Week. It is taken in open shade, right smack up against a wall. I could have done this just as well with a camera phone.
OK, sometimes rules are meant to be broken! Once in a while, I’ll take a blogger to an interesting background if it tells a story. Here, my friend Nisha and I decided to do a Fashion Week post. I decided to place her in the middle of the chaos, so it would look exciting and interesting. Here’s a complicated background that tells a story! (Note that we haven’t forgotten that nice soft light!)
3. Achieving proper exposure
The majority of OOTD shots taken by bloggers are under-exposed. The first reason is that Caucasian skin will automatically be a stop under-exposed when read by a typical camera meter (the reasons are beyond the scope of this article but if you’d like to find out more do a search on ‘Ansel Adams Zone System’). Also you must make sure that there is detail in dark things like leather and black clothes. This will often require an exposure boost when you open the photo on your computer, or, you can adjust the exposure compensation on your camera to +1 stop. Generally, some over-exposure will be more pleasing and natural than under-exposure.
4. Achieving proper focus
Generally, the point of focus should be on the eyes. If it’s not right, do it again. There is no reason to post out-of-focus shots!
Proper exposure and focus are the simple technical details to get right. Add soft pleasing light and a simple background and you’ll be a happy blogger!
Feel free to ask questions here on 40+ Style, or email me directl at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll try and help in any way I can.
Note from Sylvia: Thanks for an excellent article Denton!
Please note that I use the 50mm lens that Denton recommends and it is excellent. It’s very light too so that your camera will not weigh a ton. I’m personally using a Canon Rebel t3i (6500 D) which is an affordable all purpose DSLR camera. Although you can’t achieve a blurry background with an iphone, I recently discovered the app Tadaa, that makes it very easy to blur the background. You may want to give that a go.
All photographs by Denton Taylor