Monday, August 24, 2009

Expressive Little Girl - My Vision

Last Saturday I went to a neighborhood picnic where some of the teenage girls were offering free face painting to the younger children -- can you say, "Photo Op?!". (See my "photostream" to view eight other images in this series.)

After having her face painted, this little girl made a funny face to her friend who was standing nearby.

Almost missed it... I nearly lost this shot because I didn't have my camera set to my standard default settings -- which is to keep my camera on Aperture Priority, and my lens set for the widest aperture.

Establishing a default setting: I also keep my ISO at 640 and my white balance on "Average" (my image file is always set for Camera RAW, with a Large JPEG for rapid reviews). With this setting, I'm ready for most action situations that I come upon. By using Aperture Priority, with the the camera/lens set to widest possible aperture, the camera will automatically give me the fastest shutter speed for that aperture and ISO. (I realize that "640" is a pretty high default ISO, but its one that gives me "controllable" noise with this camera, and enough speed to handle most surprise and unplanned situations.)

With people shots, you rarely need a lot of depth of field. In fact, shallow focus is most often preferred. But what you do want is a fast shutter speed to stop action and camera shake (even if you have image stabilization). Except with landscapes, architecture, and other "tripod" type shots, having a lot of depth of field is not as important as having SOMETHING tack sharp by using the fastest shutter speed possible. (Remember, you can have great DOF, but if the shutter speed is not fast enough to stop the action or freeze your camera movement, you will still have a soft and blurry image.)

I had done a landscape shot the day before where I did need a lot of depth of field. Instead of changing all my camera settings to my standard defaults before putting my camera away, I had left the F-stop at f13. If my next shot had been a still life or another landscape, this would not have been a problem. That's because these type of shots are often quite relaxed, where I have time to THINK about what I'm doing. However, when I see a candid portrait opportunity developing, I sometimes jump into it and start clicking away before the expressions flee -- like I did last Saturday with this little girl.

Luckily, even at f13, I still had a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second, and I caught her fleeting expression without any head movement. The extra depth of field in this shot created post-production problems, though. It took over 30 minutes to blur the background in Photoshop (having to create a mask around her hair), so that it was no longer distracting and competing for attention.

Another great example of using Aperture Priority and the widest aperture possible is this helicopter shot of the Chicago skyline by Trey Ratcliff. This photo was taken at the lens' widest aperture (f2.8), giving the camera an 1/8,000 second shutter speed with an ISO of 800. Here's the full resolution file on Flickr if you want to view the incredible detail of this image (yes, it's a little noisy in the shadow areas, but he GOT the image).

You are invited to see my "Most Interesting" images on Flickr (based on popularity stats).


  1. Thanks will try this, has a number of those DAMN moments when doing a mix of shots and finally looking at them on the computer.

  2. Very interesting; must give your defaults a try.