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By Gary Bernstein

This is the Valentines Day column. And we've spent a lot of time this past year talking about a variety of different photography techniques including a lot of detail on glamour photography. This column is a different approach however. It's about producing a Valentines Portrait of the kids. And I can't think of a more wonderful present. It beats the heck out of chocolates. And naturally, the techniques discussed here are as applicable for photographs of younger children as they are for shots of your better half!

I made these images about two months ago. And although I always shoot in both color and black and white, I loved the black and white images best- and so did the parents when it came time to place their order.

These are photographs of a brother and sister...and in fact I was actually commissioned to make a family portrait to be shot in the family's living room. My assistants were setting up the lighting, and the kids were dressed first, so while waiting for mom and dad to change, I asked the kids to come outside where I shot this series of natural light images. I know that natural light is your favorite source because you don't need to bring your own lighting. And although I brought an abundance of studio electronic flash power with me for the family portrait- it's my favorite as well- and for the exact same reason: Available light is simple, fast and easy (if you know what you're doing)!

Let's start with the wardrobe. If you want images to be printed and displayed large-format in the home, it's not really a matter of whether you're shooting film or digital, or whether you're shooting 35mm or 8x10; it's simply a matter of the overall look and the results. It's about the feeling and the emotion in the images. Bottom Line: You need to produce images that holds the viewers attention- regardless of whether it's a portrait or a commercial shot. And, indeed, three of these black and whites were ordered as 40-inchers on canvas for the client. What I love about the formality of the clothing in these shots is that it gives an incredibly elegant air to the images. And while elegant images may be hung in a casual environment as well, the opposite isn't always true.

Let’s talk about the background...

In selecting a generic background of house, with simple wood furniture as props, the images feel very similar to an editorial layout for Town and Country or Esquire Magazine, and I shot over 200 editorial pages and ads for them- so I should know. While I’m not a slave to technology, I have fallen in love with zoom lenses, and all these shots were taken on a Canon Rebel with Phoenix zoom lenses. I love Phoenix’s 28-210 and 28-300, and I used each extensively and exclusively for this shoot including the formal family portrait (the subject of a future article). All the photos were made on Kodak Plus-X 35mm film rated at 125- and the images appear here exactly as they were shot- because you are looking at the actual contact sheets.

Now let’s get down the meat of the shoot...capturing the images...

Let’s talk about lighting. It’s open shade. The sun is behind the house, and I am shooting under a slight overhang. Light travels in a straight line, and the overhang bends the light bringing it into the subjects’ faces at about a 45-degree angle. Notice that I use more angular light on the young man (16) than what I do on his sister (13). That’s been standard operating procedure for me for about 35 years. I like more butterfly glamour lighting on women, and more angular lighting on men. Why? It’s more etherial and soft when direct (for women), and angular light brings out more texture and character in a man’s face which I like. Next question or comment: What’s the difference between shooting with available light and shooting with artificial light? Nothing really, except that in the case of artificial light, if you don’t like the way the lighting looks you move the lighting. In the case of natural light, you have to move the subjects instead.

There's a reason I'm showing you the contact sheets here:

A lot of you write me - telling me you want to learn to shoot better - or you want to turn pro (more on that later). So it's important to see the progression, the rhythm, the pacing of a shoot. The contacts help to show those subtleties. The best thing about those zoom lenses is that they let you recompose as you work with your subject without moving...as you talk to them...coach them...inspire them. While I was shooting I was telling the subjects how good they looked (they did), how much I loved the images (I did), to turn this way or that way...and to work "very slowly"...a little bit at a time.

Talk to your subjects. "Lift you chin...now, just tip your head slightly to your right..." Let the subject know that you intend to shoot a lot of film (or images)...that all that's important to you is getting a ton of great shots. Inspire confidence. Good lighting and composition is the start. You have to keep shooting to keep improving. We have a joke in the martial arts when we're teaching white belts..."I'll perfect this technique if it takes me all day." Success in photography is like the martial arts. It's a journey- not a destination. One more thing?Notice that in the two-shot, I back up the daughter slightly so the son (who receives split lighting in that image) receives the same exposure as the daughter. Is this too technical for you? Let me know if it is.

By the way...you can learn a ton of great photo techniques by checking out the new ZugaPhoto.TV DVD "How to Take Great Pictures" Zugaphoto - How to DVD. I appear on the DVD along with never-before-seen shows from many of the world's best pro photographers (along with their portfolios)- and it covers everything from portraits and party pictures to sports photos and travel pictures.

Well, that's it for this issue. Happy shooting.
Gary Bernstein

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